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Monday, March 25, 2013

A Princess of Mars: Part 1: Under the Moons of Mars

My wife tells of how her father used to own a collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs first editions, which he kept in a glass cabinet in their living room. She would covet those books when she was little, longing to look at the books with the marvelous and exciting covers; but her father told her that she was not allowed to touch them until she learned how to read. That was all the incentive she needed. By the time she started kindergarten, she had taught herself how to read well enough for her father to relent and grant her access to the book cabinet and to the incredible worlds of ERB.

Edgar Rice Burroughs was possibly the most successful writer of pulp fiction of the era. He is best known for Tarzan of the Apes and it's many sequels but he also wrote stories of swashbuckling interplanetary adventure. Planetary Romance stories, tales which split the difference between Sword & Sorcery and Space Opera, existed long before Burroughs; but one can argue that Burroughs codified the genre.

His very first professional sale was a serial published in All-Story Magazine in 1912 entitled "Under the Moons of Mars" and using the pseudonym "Normal Bean"; which was finally published as A Princess of Mars.

The story starts with a brief forward in which the author explains the the reader how he came to be in possession of this story; a narrative frame that we don't see that much anymore. Burroughs uses it to one extent or another in many of his books and it seems to pop up frequently in Planetary Romance. I suppose the author feels that the reader will wonder how he can be reading the account of someone's adventures on another world and needs an excuse to justify it.

In this case, Burroughs begins with a description of his uncle, John Carter; a dashing, charismatic cavalry officer from Virginia who, after the Civil War, went out west prospecting for gold and disappeared for several years. He returned, over a decade later, a more thoughtful and pensive man bearing some secret. He gave his favorite nephew a manuscript he had written and instructions on what to do if he should die. This manuscript forms the rest of the novel.

I go into this because I find it interesting what Burroughs has done here. He has not only invented a fictional uncle to be the hero of his tale, he in effect invents a fictional self. Burroughs describes himself as being five years old when Uncle John went off to war, when actually he wasn't born until 1875. He has given himself, as the transmitter of John Carter's narrative, a more respectable background to lend more credibility to his outlandish adventure.

Eventually, Carter is found lying outside his home, facing upward to the heavens with his arms outstretched as if in supplication. He is presumed dead, and per his instructions in buried, unembalmed, in the special ventilated coffin he has prepared and interred in the sealed mausoleum which can only be opened from the inside. And now that the specified space of time has passed, the author is free to release John Carter's own story.

Carter begins his tale with a brief description of himself. He considers himself a gentleman and a Virginian; that almost goes without saying. He also makes the interesting remark that he is not sure exactly how old he really is, and that as far as he can remember he has always been approximately in his mid-30s. This is never really explained. Like many things, Burroughs leaves this as a mystery. He is a warrior by profession. He does not consider himself a particularly courageous man; he simply does not generally think of the cowardly course of action until after he's already taken the brave one. He serves with distinction during the Civil War. Then,
I found myself possessed of several hundred thousand dollars (Confederate) and a captain's commission in the cavalry arm of an army which no longer existed; the servant of a state which had vanished with the hopes of the South.
He and a friend go off to the Arizona Territory looking for gold. While prospecting, they are attacked by Apaches. His friend is fatally wounded before Carter can rescue him and Carter is forced to take refuge in a hidden cave. There he finds himself overcome by mysterious fumes; he falls to the floor of the cave, and dies.

Or does he? This next part is rather enigmatic, because we only see things from his point of view and there's a lot which he never sees until much later and still more which he never learns at all. He remains conscious, but his body becomes paralyzed. With a great effort of will, he manages to break his consciousness free, so now he seems to have two bodies: his physical form which lies inert on the cave floor, and an astral form, standing naked over it; no less real than the other (he pinches himself to be sure). He leaves the cave and looks out upon the desert landscape.
As I stood thus meditating, I turned my gaze from the landscape to the heavens where the myriad stars formed a gorgeous and fitting canopy for the wonders of the earthly scene. My attention was quickly riveted by a large red star close to the distant horizon. As I gazed upon it I felt a spell of overpowering fascination -- it was Mars, the god of war, and for me, the fighting man, it had always held the power of irresistible enchantment. As I gazed at it on that far-gone night it seemed to call across the unthinkable void, to lure me to it, to draw me as the lodestone attracts a particle of iron. 
My longing was beyond the power of opposition; I closed my eyes, stretched out my arms toward the god of my vocation and felt myself drawn with the suddenness of though through the trackless immensity of space. There was an instant of extreme cold and utter darkness.
The next thing he knows, John Carter is on Mars. He doesn't know how he got there, or even why he's so sure it must be Mars; although his first attempt at walking on this new planet, where taking a step under the lesser gravity propels him high into the air is pretty good confirmation.

He comes across a strange structure with a thick glass roof. Looking down through the roof he sees what seems to be an incubator full of large eggs, each about two and a half feet in diameter. A few are hatching, revealing strange green six-limbed creatures: his first glimpse of native Martians.

His next glimpse comes when a party of adults shows up to check up on the eggs and finds him there. These are the Green Martians, a race of beings about fifteen feet in height with four arms, huge bulbous eyes and big honkin' tusks. This is one of Burroughs's specialties; he fills Mars and his other worlds with visually striking and memorable aliens. The Green Martians are a Proud Warrior Race, similar in some ways to how the white men viewed the very Apaches Carter had escaped from earlier. They ride upon eight-legged mounts called Thoats; (multiple limbs being a theme in Martian biology).

At first the Martians are hostile and suspicious of Carter, finding him as they did fooling around on top of their nursery. But they are amused by his incredible leaping abilities. Carter tries to make gestures of peace and friendliness, which the Martians seem to accept. The leader of the party, Tars Tarkas, takes him with them back to their home, the city of Thark.

The city his captors live in is an ancient one, and one apparently built by a different and more sophisticated civilization. Here Burroughs is following the view reflected in War of the Worlds and popularized by the astronomer Percival Lowell that Mars was an older world than Earth; one which once had a lush environment and oceans which have since dried up. The famous Canals of Mars were created to channel the planet's dwindling water supply to it's cities and it's former oceans were now great desert basins.

The dwindling resources and fight for survival have made the Martians, competitive and warlike. The Green Martians in particular have expunged all softer emotions of friendship and love from their society, and their sense of humor is particularly grisly. Early on during his stay with the Tharks, he rashly punches one who had been manhandling him and knocks the Martian cold, (thanks to his superior Earthly strength), possibly killing him (we aren't told). The other Martians find this hilarious.

Tars Tarkas assigns one of his retinue, a female named Sola to look after Carter; and she in turn procures a "watchdog", a huge frog-like creature with several rows of sharp teeth which ultimately becomes his faithful companion, to help guard him. Exploring some in the uninhabited portions of the ancient city, Carter encounters more Martian fauna, a pair of White Apes, huge gorilla-like creatures with four arms. The watch-beast, Woola, comes to Carter's rescue and helps him fight off the White Apes. It is only afterwards that Carter learns that Tars Tarkas and his comrades had watch the whole fight, enjoying the spectacle. His success against the apes had gained him respect in their eyes.

In these chapters we get a lot of National Geographic stuff: descriptions of the Martian culture, biology and society; and this is really one of the hallmarks of the Planetary Romance: the description of exotic alien lands and the strange people and creatures which inhabit them.

The eggs in the Martians's incubator are all hatching now and Carter witnesses the ceremony by which the females of the tribe choose hatchlings to take care of. Sola gets one, and since both Carter and his new "brother" seem to be equally developed in terms of Martian education, she trains both of them simultaneously. The Martian language turns out to be fairly simple and easy to learn; in part because it seems to have a telepathic component. Carter discovers he has a latent telepathic ablilty of his own, and under Sola's training enhances his senses. He also learns that although he can with concentration catch the thoughts of other Martians, they cannot read his own; something which becomes very useful later on.

Next:  John Carter meets a new kind of Martian, and everything changes.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Hobbit: Part 7: The Battle of Five Armies

The Dragon is dead; the dwarves have recovered their treasure and their ancestral home. We should be moving into "Happily-Ever-After" territory, shouldn't we? That's how it seems to Bilbo; but there are a few loose ends about to turn up that are going to give Bilbo and the dwarves some grief.

A small army of men from Lake-Town, led by Bard, the bowman who slew Smaug; accompanied by a larger group of elves from Mirkwood, led by the Elvenking; arrive at the foot of the Lonely Mountain. They are surprised to find Thorin and Company waiting for them; they had assumed that Smaug ate them all before proceeding to Lake-town. But finding them there, Bard advances to speak with Thorin.

Smaug's hoard consists not only of the old treasure of the dwarves; it also contains wealth which the Dragon looted from the Kingdom of Dale. As a descendant on Girion, king of Dale, Bard has a claim on a part of Smaug's gold. Bard also speaks for the men of Lake-town, whose Master he still serves, and who had assisted Thorin when he and his company had arrived there penniless. The men of Lake-town had supplied food and ponies to the dwarves to aid them on the last stage of their journey to the Lonely Mountain; and they had suffered grievously in the Dragon's attack on their town. Bard presents his case before Thorin with words which are proud and grimly-spoken; but Bilbo thinks the request seems fair.
But ... he did not reckon with the power that gold has upon which a dragon has long brooded, nor with dwarvish hearts. Long hours in the past days Thorin had spent in the treasury  and the lust of it was heavy on him. Though he had hunted chiefly for the Arkenstone, yet he had an eye for many another wonderful thing that was lying there, about which were wound old memories of the labours and the sorrows of his race.
Dwarves are naturally possessive and jealous of their rights under the best of circumstances; and this is exacerbated by the malign influence of the Dragon. In Western lore, dragons are the living embodiment of avarice, and the gold upon which dragons have nested tends to transmit that greed like a contagion.

Thorin rejects Bard's demands.
"I will not parley... with armed men at my gate. Not at all with the people of Elvenking, whom I remember with small kindness. In this debate they have no place. Begone now ere our arrows fly!"
And he actually does shoot an arrow at one of Bard's messengers. Bard announces that he will besiege the mountain until Thorin is willing to speak reasonably. He figures that with winter fast approaching and the dwarves' food dwindling, he won't have long to wait. Bilbo knows better. Thorin would rather starve than back down now; but he is also expecting his cousin Dain from the Iron Mountains to arrive any day now to break the seige. This can't end well. But Bilbo has been working on a plan of his own.

One night he creeps out of the dwarves' redoubt, concealed by his magic ring, and sneaks across no-man's-land to Bard's camp. He gives Bard the Arkenstone, which he found in Smaug's hoard and which he has been guiltily hiding from Thorin. "The heart of the Mountain, and it is also the heart of Thorin. He values it over a river of gold." Bilbo hopes that with the Arkenstone as a bargaining chip, Bard will be able to negotiate an end to the stalemate short of battle.

The elvenking is impressed by Bilbo's action. "You are more worthy to wear the armor of elf princes than many who have looked more comely in it." But he warns Bilbo that Thorin will surely be angered at the theft and suggests that Bilbo might be safer remaining with him and Bard. Bilbo declines the elf-king's offer. "I don't think I ought to leave my friends like this, after all we have gon through together."

As Bilbo leaves the camp to return to the dwarves, he unexpectedly runs into Gandalf. The wizard always seems to disappear when he is most wanted, and reappear again when he is most needed. Gandalf praises Bilbo for his generous act of burglary, but warns that a difficult time is coming quickly and there is news brewing of which even the ravens have not heard.

The next morning Bard comes to the dwarves' fortifications again to parley, but this time he has the Arkenstone, which he offers to ransom to Thorin in exchange for a share of the treasure.
"How came you by it?" shouted Thorin in gathering rage. 
"I gave it them!" squeaked Bilbo, who was peeping over the wall, by now in a dreadful fright. 
"You! You!" cried Thorin, turning upon him and grasping him with both hands. "You miserable hobbit! You undersized -- burglar!" he shouted at a loss for words, and he shook poor Bilbo like a rabbit.
Bilbo is frightened, but he reminds Thorin that he was promised a fourteenth share of the treasure. "Perhaps I took it too literally -- I have been told that dwarves are sometimes politer in word than in deed. The time was, all the same, when you seemed to think that I had been of some service.... Take it that I have disposed of my share as I wished and let it go at that!"

Grimly, Thorin agrees to send one fourteenth of the gold and silver -- "the promised share of the traitor" -- to redeem the Arkenstone. He casts Bilbo out from his walls. "Take him, if you wish him to live; and no friendship of mine goes with him."

As for the payment, that will have to wait. "That shall follow after, as can be arranged," Thorin says; but in the back of his mind he is thinking of Dain and his army, due any time now. He might be able to recapture the Arkenstone without paying a nickel.

Dain does arrive the next day, with five hundred seasoned veterans of the dwarf and goblin wars. For the moment, the army of Bard and the elvenking can prevent them from joining up with Thorin, but the moment of crisis has come. How big a crisis, only Gandalf knows.

Just as battle is about to be joined, the sky is darkened by a swarm of bats heralding the arrival of a goblin army riding on wolves. "Dread has come upon you all!" Gandalf cires. "The goblins are upon you! Bolg of the North is coming, O Dain! whose father you slew in Moria." This is a reference to the great war between the goblins and the dwarves which had been alluded to before. Tolkien expands on it a bit in the Appendices of Lord of the Rings. Suffice it to say that the goblins have also heard about the Dragon's hoard; and they are looking for payback.

Dwarves may be generally unpopular, but everybody hates goblins. The rival factions quickly set aside their differences to face this new threat.

Thus begins the Battle of the Five Armies, pitting the elves, men and dwarves on one side against the goblins and the wargs on the other. Bilbo does his very best to stay out of it. His magic ring may be very useful to avoid being seen by an enemy combatant, but it is no help in avoiding being trod upon or hit by a stray arrow.
It was a terrible battle. The most dreadful of all Bilbo's experiences, and the one which at the time he hated most -- which is to say it was the one he was most proud of, and most fond of recalling long afterwards, although he was quite unimportant in it.
Bilbo observes the battle from the hilltop where the elves have taken up a defensive position. The battle is going against his friends; the goblins are overwhelming them with superior numbers. Then, when all looks hopeless...
The clouds were torn by the wind, and a red sunset slashed the West. Seeing the sudden gleam in the gloom Bilbo looked round. He gave a great cry: he had seen a sight that made his heart leap, dark shapes small yet majestic against the distant glow."The Eagles! The Eagles!" he shouted. "The Eagles are coming!"
Tolkien was very fond of this passage, and felt that it was his most successful evoking of something he called eucatastrophe, or "good catastrophe"; a turn of events which upends everything which came before, but which brings about joy rather than sorrow. It's the Cavalry coming over the hill; Jack Worthing discovering that he really is named Earnest; the Millennium Falcon coming out of nowhere to take out the TIE fighters on Luke's tail; it's the look on the villain's face when he realizes that all his diabolical plans have only given the hero the chance to triumph; it is Victory snatched from the jaws of Defeat, the sudden Reversal of Fortune which makes the Happy Ending possible. A devout Catholic, Tolkien regarded the story of the Resurrection as the ultimate eucatastrophe.

We've seen smaller eucatastrophes scattered about in The Hobbit previously: the trolls petrified by the rising sun; the previous appearance of the eagles rescuing the dwarves from the goblins in the fir grove. Here is the climactic catastrophe of the book, in which the tide of battle turns leading to ultimate victory. Tolkien liked the scene so much that he invoked it again in Lord of the Rings during the climactic battle at the Black Gates of Mordor. Pippen hears someone shouting "The Eagles are coming" and thinks, "No, that's Bilbo's story."

Bilbo does not witness this victory. A stray stone flung from above hits his helm and knocks him unconscious. He doesn't get to see the goblins routed or the last-minute appearance of Beorn in the form of a gigantic bear smashing through the goblin ranks. By the time he wakes up and has the presence of mind to remove his magic ring, the battle is over. (If he hadn't been invisible, he probably would have been taken to much more comfortable quarters by now.)

He learns that of his companions only ten remain. Fili and Kili were slain, defending Thorin. They were the youngest of Thorin's company and his nephews. Here we have some of Tolkien's own somber experiences of war creeping into the tale. It is always the young who perish in wartime. Thorin has also been fatally wounded and lies near death. He has asked to see Bilbo one last time.
"Farewell, good thief," he said. "I go now to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers, until the world is renewed. Since I leave now all gold and silver, and go where it is of little worth, I wish to part in friendship from you, and I would take back my words and deeds at the Gate. ... If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell!"
Thorin is buried under the Mountain, with the Arkenstone on his breast. His cousin Dain assumes leadership of the dwarves and honors the agreement to give a fourteenth share of the treasure to Bard, to use in rebuilding the Lake-town and re-establish the kingdom of Dale. Dain also offers to give a share to Bilbo in reward for all he has done; but the little hobbit will accept no more than what a pony can carry. He figures that any more that that would be more bother to carry home than it would be worth.

Accompanied by Gandalf, Bilbo takes a more leisurely trip back home. One by one, he bids farewell to his friends, both old and new: the dwarves, the elvenking, Beorn, Elrond. A year has passed since he ran out the door of Bag-End without his handkerchief  and arrives back home to find one last joke played upon him. Because of his long absence, he's been declared legally dead and he returns in the middle of an auction selling off his belongings.

His remarkable adventure has ruined his reputation as a solid, respectable hobbit. Most of his neighbors now regard him as 'queer'. But he has the honor of elves, wizards and dwarves, which is something. He spends the dragon's gold he received on presents, which perhaps is the best way to break a dragon's curse. He takes to writing poetry and visiting elves, and confounds his proper relations by being remarkably happy to the end of his days.

Monday, March 11, 2013

My Silver Age Of Comics

In a previous article I gave a comic per year of my life of growing up with comics, here I am just going to give the year and the comic, and leave it at that, as the comics are so good, the commentary is unnecessary.

Thanks for the people who encouraged me to do more, also, bite me! to the people who encouraged me to do more, this took forever.














Monday, March 4, 2013

The Hobbit: Part 6: The Fall of Smaug

Bilbo and the dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, have finally reached Erebor, the Lonely Mountain. Unfortunately Smaug, the terrible dragon who currently occupies the dwarven halls under the Mountain, has become aware of their presence. He has sealed them in the secret tunnel leading to the Dragon's treasure chamber, and is now flying off to Lake-town to punish the men of that community, whom he believes sent the dwarves.

Unable to go back the way they came, Thorin's party ventures down into the Dragon's lair; once again sending Bilbo first. The Dragon is gone for the moment, but as far as the dwarves know he could come back at any time. While exploring around Smaug's hoard, Bilbo comes across a large, glittering gem.
It was the Arkenstone, the Heart of the Mountain. So Bilbo guessed from Thorin's description; but indeed there could not be two such gems, even in so marvelous a hoard, even in all the world. ... The great jewel shone before his feet of its own inner light, and yet, cut and fashioned by the dwarves, who had dug it from the heart of the mountain long ago, it took all light that fell upon it and changed it into ten thousand sparks of white radiance shot with glints of the rainbow.
Impulsively, Bilbo shoves the jewel into his pocket. Why? He'd not sure he knows himself. His sensible Baggins-nature recognizes that he's probably making a mistake.
"Now I am a burglar indeed!" thought he. "But I suppose I must tell the dwarves about it -- some time. They did say I could pick and choose my own share; and I think I would choose this, if they took all the rest!" All the same he had an uncomfortable feeling that the picking and choosing had not really been meant to include this marvelous gem, and that trouble would yet come of it.
The Arkenstone is similar to the silmarils from Tolkien's Silmarillion; jewels of such intense beauty, that people become obsessed with possessing them. All things considered, Bilbo gets off pretty easily for his act of pilferage. If C.S. Lewis had been writing the story, I think that karma would have bitten Bilbo in the butt much harder. But perhaps his crime is mitigated by how he ultimately uses the Arkenstone. That comes later.

Meanwhile, what happened to the Dragon?

The men of Lake-town see flashes of light on the distant mountain and think hopefully that the King under the Mountain is once again forging gold. The grim-faced captain of the town's archers thinks the fires more likely come from Smaug, "the only king under the Mountain we have ever known." His name is Bard, and if he has a reputation among his peers as a Gloomy Gus, he comes by it honestly. His family were refugees from Dale, the kingdom lying in the valley between the Mountain and the Lake, when it was devastated by the Dragon; and he is descended from the Kings of Dale.

Bard rallies the towns defenses, orders evacuations of the townsfolk and organizes bucket brigades to try to control fires. The town's position in the middle of a lake makes it well-defended against conventional ground-based attack, but it is still built chiefly of wood and highly vulnerable to aerial flame attacks; which is just what Smaug begins to do. The arrows of Bard's bowmen do no damage to the dragon's diamond-and-kevlar hide. Then, when all looks lost, a thrush flies up and lights on Bard's shoulder.

Yes, this is the same thrush who was hanging around the dwarves' camp; whose cracking of snail shells reminded Bilbo of the inscription on Thror's Map, and who was listening when Bilbo told the dwarves about his conversation with Smaug. Earlier Thorin mentioned that the Men of Bard could understand the language of thrushes, and now this thrush tells Bard of the Dragon's weak spot which Bilbo observed.

I have to admit, I've always found this bit rather convenient. Yes, we have seen talking eagles and wolves and spiders, but the bit with Bard and the bird just seemed to be stretching coincidence more than I like. But what Tolkien is doing here is giving a shout-out to the old Norse sagas he loved so much. In the Völsungsa saga, the great 13th Century Icelandic epic, the hero Sigurn gains the ability to understand the speech of birds when the tastes the blood of the slain dragon Fafnir. Richard Wagner used this same bit in his Ring of the Nibelung, which was based on the Völsungsa saga.

Tolkien often became annoyed when people compared his Lord of the Rings to Wagner's Ring Cycle. "Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceases." he'd gripe. I don't know if he would have been less testy if people compared LOTR with the Völsungs instead of with Wagner, but I think that in the case of Bard and the Bird the similarities were deliberate.

Prompted by the thrush's advice, Bard spots the bare patch in the Dragon's armor and readies his lucky Black Arrow, and heirloom passed down by his family.
"Arrow!" said the bowman. "Black arrow! I have save you to the last. You have never failed me and always I have recovered you. I had you from my father and he from of old. If ever you came from the forges of the true king under the Mountain, go now and speed well!"
The arrow flies straight and true and finds the Dragon's weak spot. Smaug plummets from the sky, crushing a large portion of the town beneath him. In a hiss of steam he sinks to the bottom of the Lake. Bard himself only barely manages to escape the catastrophe of Smaug's death-throes.

The Dragon now is dead, but the town has been devastated. At first people are inclined to blame the Master of the Town, who fled at the first sign of trouble, and want to declare Bard king. The Master insists that if anyone is to blame, it's the stupid dwarves who went and got the dragon all riled up; (and he does have a point). "Why waste words on those unhappy creatures?" Bard says; "Doubtless they perished first in fire, before Smaug came to us."

Bard is not without ambition himself; the idea of re-establishing his forefathers' kingdom in Dale appeals to him, and it occurs to him that the unclaimed treasure of the dwarves would make some excellent starting capital. But he still has duties to the Lake-town and an obligation to help the Lake-folk left homeless by the Dragon's attack.

The Elf-king hears of Smaug's fall and he too thinks of all that gold and treasure lying unguarded under the mountain. But before he sends his own army to Erebor, he first has it escort food and relief down the river to Lake-town. He may be prejudiced against dwarves and have an unseemly fondness for the bling; but despite these personal flaws, Tolkien reminds us again that the elves are "Good Folk." Extending charity to his unfortunate neighbors will take priority over treasure-grabbing for the moment.

And there are others who also hear of the Dragon's death and regard the news with interest.

While all this is happening, the dwarves have been exploring the ancient halls of their ancestors and doing inventory of the treasure and armaments they find. Thorin gives Bilbo a short mail-shirt made of mithril, a lightweight metal as bright as silver and stronger than steel. The mail-shirt, along with Bilbo's elvish blade, Sting, get passed on to Bilbo's nephew Frodo in Lord of the Rings.
"I feel magnificent," he thought; "but I expect I look rather absurd. How they would laugh on the Hill at home! Still, I wish there was a looking-glass handy!"
I wonder if here Tolkien was thinking of a bit from H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, where the protagonist, Alan Quatermain, is given a similar shirt of mail. Like Bilbo, he feel's self-conscious wearing it, but it does prove to be useful.

In his inventory of the the Dragon's hoard, Thorin does not come across the Arkenstone. Now would be the time for Bilbo to mention finding it. He doesn't.

A day or two pass and still the Dragon has not returned. The dwarves begin rebuilding some of the hall's fortifications, expecting trouble. Just as the Men of Dale could speak with thrushes, the dwarves used to have a working relationship with the ravens of the Lonely Mountain. One of them comes now to Thorin: an ancient bird named Roäc, whose father served Thorin's grandfather Thror when he was King Under the Mountain. Roac brings Thorin tidings of Smaug's death, and also of the host of elves on their way from Mirkwood. He also warns that the Lake-men blame the dwarves for their trouble and also want to take reparations from the Dragon's hoard.
"Your own wisdom must decide your course; but thirteen is small remnant of the great folk of Durin that once dwelt here, and now are scattered far. If you will listen to my counsel, you will not trust the Master of the Lake-men, but rather him that shot the dragon with his bow. Bard is he, of the race of Dale, of the line of Girion; he is a grim man but true. We would see peace once more among dwarves and men and elves after the long desolation; but it may cost you dear in gold. I have spoken."
Before Roäc even got to the part about "cost you dear in gold," Thorin has already made up his mind. They can have his gold when they pry it out of his cold, dead fingers; not a moment sooner. He tells Roäc to go to his kinsman, Dain, who dwells in the Iron Hills a couple week's march away, and bid Dain to come with all the dwarves he can muster to defend their homeland.

"I will not say if this counsel be good or bad," Roäc croaks, but he can see that this is not going to go well. Still, he flies off to bear Thorin's message.

Bilbo doesn't like the situation either and wishes the matter could be settled quickly, but the dwarves pay even less attention to him than they do to the raven's advice.

NEXT:  Dwarvish Diplomacy; Bilbo's Desperate Gamble; Thorin's Rage; The Battle of Five Armies and Eucatastrophe!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Cat-Men from Mars!

In addition to occasionally blogging about my favorite science fiction and fantasy novels, I also draw a webcomic which I try to update every week.  The comic's title is HANNIBAL TESLA ADVENTURE MAGAZINE and it is a pulp-era adventure comic featuring a two-fisted Man of Science whose resemblance to a certain Man of Bronze is far from inexplicable.

In the current storyline, Gutsy Girl Reporter Ginger DuPree has traveled into space to investigate instances of sabotage on a planned Mars rocket.  She has discovered that Cat-Men from the planet Mars have landed on the Moon and are preparing for an invasion of Earth.  While escaping from the Cat-Men, she makes an astounding discovery...