Four Letter Nerd

Author - Cam Clark

10 Masterful Quotes from the King of Horror Stephen King

Stephen King is one of those authors I keep coming back to.  After reading The Stand and ‘Salem’s Lot the summer after graduating high school, I was hooked.  I went through a majority of his backlog from Carrie through the Dark Tower series on to his more recent Bill Hodges trilogy.  His work, while often dark, explores the depth of human experience and gives some great insight into life, friendship, courage, and love.  Below you will find some of my favorite quotes by Stephen King.  With a backlog as deep as King’s, there are a multitude of quotes to choose from, but these all resonated with me as I reread them.

The Stand

 

11/22/63

The Dark Tower

Wolves of the Calla

It

Carrie

‘Salem’s Lot

Joyland

The Dark Tower

Different Seasons: Rita Haysworth and the Shawshank Redemption

Little Green Army Men: Origins

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Game of Thrones coverage for something completely different.

There I was, eyes closed and on the verge of sleep, when my mind began running on empty (running blind). “Did I lock the doors?” “Am I a good father?” “Remember that time in third grade when you got hit in the face with a soccer ball on your birthday and had to go to the women’s restroom with the teacher so she could get your nose to stop bleeding?” “Hey, those little plastic Army Men seem to have been around forever, what’s their story?”

I already knew the answers to those first few questions – yes, probably, and how can I forget that traumatizing experience? What I didn’t know was the answer to the fourth question. Everybody has had or at least played with those green and tan army men. They are like those little strawberry flavored candies that were everywhere when we were kids. They are a fundamental building block of the universe. I mean, they were voiced by R. Lee Ermie (the epitome of drill sergeant) in Toy Story, and spawned a video game franchise that I remember being surprisingly violent. Anyways, I was not able to go to sleep until I researched it, and what I found was moderately interesting. Because I care for you and really want you to have a deep well of useless knowledge to draw from the next time you are making small talk with family you only see on holidays, I am sharing the findings with you. You can thank me later. I also accept donations via PayPal.

The plastic, monochromatic, military men are the successor of the Bergen Toy and Novelty Co. (Beton) line of plastic army men painted up the same as the die-cast offerings that were popular before we found out that lead is, like, hella toxic. This was in 1938, so it would still be a few years before the United States would enter WWII, so these were modeled after the United States Army’s WWI “doughboy” uniforms.

Side note: die cast figures show up in The Patriot before being smelted and shaped into musket balls #themoreyouknow.

The 1940’s were a trend setting decade for one of the greatest toys of all time. Not only were their uniforms updated from WWI to WWII era uniforms, but they also made the jump from painted (with lead paint) to the monochromatic look we are all familiar with.

The aforementioned lead scare and a boom in the up-and-coming plastics industry lead to several companies, like Louis Marx and Company, and Multiple Plastics Corporation, springing up and offering more figures, accessories, and playsets going back to the American Revolution and Cowboys vs. Indians, to the modern space age.

Unfortunately for everyone, the 1970’s kind of sucked. Sure we got some great music out of it, but we also got an oil crisis and country demoralized by the Vietnam War, which inevitably this lead to a decline in sales. For one thing, plastics are made using oil, and when the country is embroiled in an unpopular war, people don’t want to play with toy soldiers that remind them of said war apparently. The declining popularity of the little green army man would force many of the major plastic soldier manufacturers to close their doors. Nowadays most of these figures are imitations manufactured in China, so the days of American plastic toy soldier manufactures were numbered anyway.

So they next time you are walking through Dollar General and see a bag full of little, plastic army men, remember that these things were made the same year ballpoint pens made their debut and the year Seabiscuit defeated War Admiral on the racetrack.

 

More Like This:

The True Story of Why Cracker Barrel Looks Like The Inside of Your Grandma’s Attic

Bookshop Tour – Nashville

Used bookshops are some of my favorite places to be.  There is just something revitalizing about browsing the bookshelves, searching for the next book to add to your stack of unread-but-maybe-soon-to-be-read books.  In fact, I have to travel to Baltimore for work in a few weeks, and the first thing I did was look up used bookstores in the area.  This got me thinking about the bookstores that I often frequent in and around my own stomping grounds of Nashville, TN.  There are a handful of fantastic shops around town that I think all Nashvillian bibliophiles and out-of-towners alike should visit when they can.

Without further adieu, here, in no particular order, is a brief look at my favorite bookstores around Nashville:

Books at Cummins Station

Books at Cummins Station might just be the prototypical form when it comes to used bookstores as seen in the mind’s eye.  It’s eclectic style, collection, and decor make it a fun place just to browse around.  One of the best things about the store is the sheer enormity of the stacks.  The ceilings are very high, and there are bookcases stacked on bookcases with more books on top.  It’s actually a little overwhelming until you get used to it.  And the walkways are so narrow that it’s hard to get a picture that does it justice.

Ms. B’s Used Books & CD’s

Technically Ms. B’s Used Books and CD’s is in the suburbs of Nashville, not Nashville proper, but it has been my home shop for almost 15 years.  It’s not as big as the others on this list, but the owner is a great human being, and if you want a book that’s not on the shelves, she will order it for you at a discount.  In fact, I recently stopped ordering new books online and just have Ms. B order them for me.  If you are ever around Hendersonville, you should definitely drop by.  One thing I really like is how much my four year old loves going to the shop.  If I ever take him to a bookstore that’s not this one, he gets frustrated and metaphorically twists my arm until I stop in here too.  Oh, and she also buys and sells records, so vinyl-heads have something to browse as well.

Rhino Booksellers Charlotte

I’ve only been in this shop once or twice, but I will definitely be coming back.  Like Books at Cummins Station, Rhino Booksellers has a great vintage atmosphere that makes you take your time and enjoy it.  This shop has a great selection of nice editions.  I’ve found some really nice Tolkien and C.S. Lewis titles here including a really nice edition of Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas.  Come for the atmosphere, stay to get the shop cat to like you.

McKay Used Books

Credit: mckaybooks.com

If you can’t tell from the photo above, McKay’s is definitely the largest store on the list.  It is basically a warehouse of used books, movies, videogames, and music.  It can be difficult to find some specific titles here because of the vast quantity and the high volume of customers, but I always enjoy making the drive out to Bellevue to slowly wander the fiction section for an hour or two.  If you can’t find something to read  here you aren’t trying hard enough.

Parnassus Books

Credit: parnassusbooks.net

Unlike the previous entries, Parnassus Books is an independent bookstore instead of a used bookstore.  The shop is beautiful, there is a good selection of literary fiction, a really neat section of local selections, and it sponsors some fantastic events.  Earlier this year, I attended an event where John Scalzi spoke for a while, then held a meet and greet where I had my copies of The Collapsing Empire and the hilarious Redshirts signed.  Another fun fact is that it is co-owned by author Ann Patchett.

Atomic Nashville

Atomic Books is a small independent bookstore in east Nashville.  While it may be small in stature, it’s big in heart and uniqueness.  I found they had a lot of titles I’ve been wanting to read, or that have been recommended to me over the last few months, and their sci-fi selection is hella strong.  They also sell art, music, and local selections.  Oh, and they have a surprisingly stout selection of Little Golden Books.

Like I said earlier, used bookstores might be one of my favorite places on Earth.  If you find yourself in the Nashville area and are of the book persuasion, you should definitely block out some time to visit and explore some of Nashville’s best literature peddlers.  And if you happen to visit Ms. B’s tell them I sent you… none of the other shops will know who the hell I am.

4LN Interview with Fred Van Lente, author of Ten Dead Comedians: A Murder Mystery

Fred Van Lente is one of those writers that has me hooked.  Up till now, Mr. Van Lente has been churning out top-notch comics with Marvel, Valiant, Dark Horse, and IDW.  You might remember that we interviewed him awhile back about his work with Valiant. Now Mr. Van Lente is switching gears with his upcoming debut novel Ten Dead Comedians: A Murder Mystery. After reading a review copy, I reached out to Fred (editor: did you ask if you could call him Fred?) to see if he’d be willing to spend some of his increasingly rare spare time chatting with us about his new book.  Spoiler: he agreed.

4LN: Some of our readers may remember that we had a chance to speak with you in February 2015, what have you been up to between now and then?

FVL: Well, quite a lot. Many, many comics, like Deadpool vs the Punisher, Weird Detective and Comic Book History of Comics, and a few other projects, but I have to admit what I’ve been most excited about is my first novel coming out, Ten Dead Comedians, which I stated around November 2015, not so long after we last spoke, and is at long last coming out July 11th!

Digging into your new book, what is it about And Then There Were None that drew you in? Is there something special about that particular story, or the golden era of mystery for you?

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is a classic of the genre — it’s not just one of the bestselling mysteries, it’s one of the bestselling books, period, of all times. There’s something so elemental about the concept — a bunch of people trapped in a place, being knocked off one by one, with one of the potential victims themselves the likely killer. I had read that Christie thought of the idea years before she wrote the book because she couldn’t believe she was the first person to try it. She was, and justly reaped the rewards of her originality.

What made you decide to tell a classic mystery story using Comedians of all makes and models? (Genre mashup)

I’ve made genre mashup something of a specialty in my career, from Cowboys & Aliens (Western/sci-fi) to Incredible Hercules (Greek mythology/superhero) and more recently in books like Weird Detective, which combines the Cthulhu Mythos with a police procedural. So even though this is in the prose format it something that comes very naturally to me.
But you know combining comedy and mystery seems so simple, because so much of the language of comedy is about violence — you “die” on stage or you “slaughter” audience, if you did great you “killed,” if you do badly you “bombed.” So the idea of combining Last Comic Standing with basic set-up of And Then There Were None almost seems like a no-brainer.

Comedy obviously plays a big part of the novel, as you even go so far as to include a comedy routine for every comedian, each with their own style. What kind of work goes into ten unique routines, each in a different voice?

It was not easy, to be honest with you. When I first started writing the book I resisted doing the monologues because I knew doing ten of them in such distinctive voices would be a bitch. But then I a) realized how I could slip clues to the mystery into each and every one and b) uh, I would probably not hit my contractually-mandated word count if I didn’t add them, so, my choice was clear! It was very hard, although I am such a huge comedy nerd I had voices for all of them in my head kind of to begin with, but it was hugely satisfying and it’s one of the things folks say they like the most about the book, so clearly it was the right decision.

When I first started reading Ten Dead Comedians, I thought I could pick out specific real life comedians that inspired your characters, but as the story developed I realized that none of them quite fit. How did you go about developing your ten comedians that might or might not be dead soon?

I mean, there are certainly various archetypes the comics represent — Las Vegas lounge comic, late-night host, “blue collar” comic and so on — but, you know, I am killing (most of? All? Read and find out) these characters in spectacularly gory ways, and I’m not a monster. I don’t want any real people dead. Also, it’s not very interesting to me as a writer to just try and copy somebody else’s schtick completely. So everyone is a gumbo, a mixture of various actual comics. So the insult comic is really a blend of Joan Rivers and Don Rickles. There’s bits and pieces of Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman and various other “observational” comics in Zoe Schwartz. My wife nearly worked for Blue Man Group at one point so our “Orange Baby Man” is sort of a combo of their philosophy with a prop comic like Gallagher or Carrottop, and so on.

Is it difficult to make the jump from comics to novels? Are there any big differences between the two writing styles.

Sure. I mean, in comics scripting you’re creating a blueprint for another person to follow. But in prose you’re the whole show. There’s no other collaborators to lean on. I’ve been writing prose on and off since I was a high schooler, though, so it’s not like I was a complete neophyte. I’m one of those cliche writers who has a bunch of novels collecting dust in drawer. So to have the first one be published is indescribably exciting.

Was there anything from the comic world that possibly helped you with the writing process?

The comics world is a monthly grind, which translates to a daily, weekly grind on the creative team. The constant deadlines really builds discipline, which is helpful when you’re writing a 70- or 80,000 word novel spread out over many months. It lets you pace yourself properly.

Whenever you’re in a writing slump, do you have a method you use to motivate yourself to get back at it?

Yes: Write. It is the only method. Allow yourself to be in a slump and write shittily. You can always redraft it later. But the only way to get past writer’s block is to write around it.

Lastly, do you have any other big plans on the horizon that we should be on the lookout for?

I am excited to beginning my second novel, The Con Artist, a mystery novel set during the San Diego Comic Con, out next year. And I’m also co-writing a thing with my old pal Greg Pak, can’t wait to see that announced. For the summer I’m doing a lot of promotions for Ten Dead so maybe I’ll take a break afterwards? Ah, who am I kidding, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself…

Summary from Quirk Books:

Fred Van Lente’s brilliant debut is both an homage to the Golden Age of Mystery and a thoroughly contemporary show-business satire. As the story opens, nine comedians of various acclaim are summoned to the island retreat of legendary Hollywood funnyman Dustin Walker. The group includes a former late-night TV host, a washed-up improv instructor, a ridiculously wealthy “blue collar” comic, and a past-her-prime Vegas icon. All nine arrive via boat to find that every building on the island is completely deserted. Marooned without cell phone service or wifi signals, they soon find themselves being murdered one by one. But who is doing the killing, and why?

A darkly clever take on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and other classics of the genre, Ten Dead Comedians is a marvel of literary ventriloquism, with hilarious comic monologues in the voice of every suspect. It’s also an ingeniously plotted puzzler with a twist you’ll never see coming!

4LN Movie Review – The Mummy

The Mummy starring Tom Cruise hit the big screen earlier this month and has been met with some less-than-stellar reviews.  Luckily, fans of nostalgia and summer blockbusters have another movie to turn to.  No, I’m not talking about It, or Transformers.  I’m talking about the 1999 The Mummy starring the Encino Man himself Brendan Fraser.

Side note: I would’ve written a review for it when it came out, but I was 11.

Summary from IMDB:

An American serving in the French Foreign Legion on an archaeological dig at the ancient city of Hamunaptra accidentally awakens a mummy.

Oh yes.

The Mummy (1999) was written and directed by Stephen Sommers and stars Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and John Hannah as a trio of adventurers (some better at it than others) tracking down the lost city of Hamunaptra.  After shenanigans involving curses, skin-burrowing scarabs, and another team of adventurers led by the shifty Beni, the trio finds themselves face to decaying face with Imhotep, and Imhotep is not a happy mummy.

The Indiana Jones vibe is strong with this one.  In fact, the tone of The Mummy falls more in line with the original Jones trilogy than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull did, and I didn’t think that movie was all that bad.  It has that early Hollywood Errol Flynn feel that makes it more endearing than a gritty reboot would.

Speaking of Errol Flynn, Brendan Fraser’s Rick O’Connell is great.  He’s not your typical action star that’s known for his physical presence, but he manages to steal the screen with his quick wit, over-the-top style.  Oh, and Rachel Weisz said that he literally had to be resuscitated after the hanging scene. If that’s not dedication to the craft, I don’t know what is.  I particularly liked Weisz in her role as Evelyn Carnahan.  Not only is she incredibly smart, but she is also brave, endearing, and is the only person capable of keeping her idiot brother and Rick O’Connell in line.

I also enjoyed that the film uses real sets instead of relying on CGI, which is all too common nowadays (looking at you, The Hobbit).  The set pieces look more like Temple of Doom than green screen, and that’s a good thing when you are making a love letter to old school adventure films.  Sure, the CGI they used was a little rough, but every time Imhotep’s jaw dropped farther than a jaw should drop it was creepy, and remember that scene where the scarab is crawling under that guy’s skin? If you were a kid when it came out, I doubt you’ve ever forgotten it #heebiejeebies.

Overall, The Mummy stands the test of time.  The final action sequence had everything you’d expect in a monster/action/adventure movie, including mummy zombies (zombie mummies?), romance, sword fights, one-liners, and last second escapes.  It’s hard to mash several genres together, but The Mummy does it well.  Parts of it are legitimately creepy, even when the violence is implied using the ol’ shadow on the wall trick, but then the comedic relief comes swooping in to make you laugh and break the tension.

If you haven’t seen The Mummy in a while, it’s time.  As long as you don’t go in expecting every aspect to hold up 100%, you should have a great time reliving your childhood with the help of Brendan Frasier’s relevance, at least me and my wife did. Now I just need to track down a copy of The Mummy Returns. I hear a certain WWF superstar might make an appearance.

#notmythemummy

4LN Book Review: Dragon Teeth, by Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton is a colossus in the entertainment industry.  He is the creative mind behind Jurassic Park, ER, Andromeda Strain, Congo, and Westworld.  During his life, Crichton dominated the box office, the literary world, and television.  Dragon Teeth is the latest in a series of posthumous novels discovered by his family to hit the shelves.

Summary from HarperCollins:

About the Book

Michael Crichton, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Jurassic Park, returns to the world of paleontology in this recently discovered novela thrilling adventure set in the Wild West during the golden age of fossil hunting.

The year is 1876. Warring Indian tribes still populate Americas western territories even as lawless gold-rush towns begin to mark the landscape. In much of the country it is still illegal to espouse evolution. Against this backdrop two monomaniacal paleontologists pillage the Wild West, hunting for dinosaur fossils, while surveilling, deceiving and sabotaging each other in a rivalry that will come to be known as the Bone Wars.

Into this treacherous territory plunges the arrogant and entitled William Johnson, a Yale student with more privilege than sense. Determined to survive a summer in the west to win a bet against his arch-rival, William has joined world-renowned paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh on his latest expedition. But when the paranoid and secretive Marsh becomes convinced that William is spying for his nemesis, Edwin Drinker Cope, he abandons him in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a locus of crime and vice. William is forced to join forces with Cope and soon stumbles upon a discovery of historic proportions. With this extraordinary treasure, however, comes exceptional danger, and Williams newfound resilience will be tested in his struggle to protect his cache, which pits him against some of the Wests most notorious characters.

A page-turner that draws on both meticulously researched history and an exuberant imagination, Dragon Teeth is based on the rivalry between real-life paleontologists Cope and Marsh; in William Johnson readers will find an inspiring hero only Michael Crichton could have imagined. Perfectly paced and brilliantly plotted, this enormously winning adventure is destined to become another Crichton classic.

There is a particular formula a majority of Michael Crichton’s most popular books follow.  Take a team of scientists from diverse fields of study, insert a preternatural problem that serves as an antagonist – such as an alien spacecraft (Sphere), super-virus (Andromeda Strain), or genetically reconstructed dinosaurs (Jurassic Park) – and have the team of scientists work together to solve said problem.  Dragon Teeth smashes that mold.

While most of Crichton’s literary work would fall under the action/adventure genre, Dragon Teeth falls more in the realm of western/historical fiction.  The story takes place during the Bone Wars, which found two leading paleontologists – Cope and Marsh – in a bitter race to discover dinosaur bones.  Cope and Marsh, as well as Cope’s compatriot Charles Stern, all play significant roles in the story and actually existed (they have their own Wikipedia pages and everything). The Earp brothers also make their presence known in and around the town of Deadwood (bonus points if you read their parts with Kurt Russell and Bill Paxton’s voices).

While the historical characters are exciting, the true protagonist of Dragon Teeth is William Johnson; a fictional character that serves as a foil for the reader to learn more about the historical events unfolding. Born into affluence, Johnson has led a life of ease and excess. It’s not until he makes a spur of the moment bet and joins a paleontology exhibition headed west that he faces any real adversity, and boy does he face it. During the Wild West adventure, Johnson finds himself in the middle of both the Bone Wars and the Sioux Wars. Add to that the general cast of ruffians typical of western lore, and you got yourself a story more reminiscent of Louis L’Amour than Andromeda Strain.

It is important to note that this book isn’t technically a finished product. It was found in manuscript form, and a note from his wife indicates that he started planning it as far back from 1974. Some of the dialogue is stiff and the pacing is a bit jumpy, but I think this is a book fans of both Crichton and westerns will enjoy as long as they don’t expect something akin to his blockbuster titles.

For more like this, check out our Top Four Michael Crichton Novels

The True Story of Why Cracker Barrel Looks Like The Inside of Your Grandma’s Attic

Growing up in the South, Cracker Barrel has always been a part of the breakfast landscape.  Now that I have kids, my visits have become less frequent because my two-year-old is a hurricane and oh-my-god-there-are-so-many-breakable-objects-between-the-door-and-the-hostess-stand.

As most of you know, each Cracker Barrel has a uniquely antique sense of style. Recently, while sipping my coffee and waiting for my Momma’s Pancake Breakfast (eggs: scrambled, extra bacon: crispy), I started to wonder how Cracker Barrel manages to collect the number of vintage items required to cover almost every square inch of wall and ceiling.

It turns out, the answer is a lot more interesting than you thought.

First of all, all of those old tools, toys, signs, and memorabilia on display are 100% original.  They aren’t buying mass reproductions of old items, they are actively seeking antiquities that have that Cracker Barrel aesthetic.  In fact, the “look” is so recognizable that a lot of antique dealers will reach out to them when they come across an item that matches their style.  You see, at the Cracker Barrel home office, they have what they call a Decór Warehouse where they house a collection of over 90,000 artifacts obtained by their antique expert Larry Singleton.

Add to that the 700,000 relics already in stores, and you have one of the largest collections of Americana in the world.  When the first restaurant opened back in 1969, the founder, Dan Evins, enlisted the help of antique shop owners Don and Kathleen Singleton to nail down the “Country Store” feel.  The couple liked the job they stuck around and bequeathed the position to their son Larry – mentioned above – who maintains and expands the collection today.

Just picture the Indiana Jones warehouse, but with better lighting

The back of the warehouse holds a restoration area, where they clean and restore every piece before it finds its way to a store.  Once the items make it through the restorative process, they are cataloged and shelved in the vast caverns of homespun hospitality that is the front of the warehouse, where they await their chance to become the inhabitant of a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.

Each store starts with upwards of 1,000 original antiques that give the store its classic look.  Once a new store is under development, Larry and his team do research on the area’s history and culture so they can choose artifacts complimentary to the locale.  While a majority of the items are unique, there are a few things that every Cracker Barrel has in common.

For instance, every store has an ox yolk and a horseshoe over the front door, the restrooms are demarcated by a stoplight, an old rifle above the fireplace, and a checkerboard that rests on a cracker barrel (get it?) in front of the fireplace.  Once the items are curated from the Decór Warehouse, they make a full-scale mock-up of the restaurant and begin figuring out the placement of each piece.  Once they are satisfied with the arrangement, they take pictures of the finished product and ship the pieces to their new home.

Mockup created at Cracker Barrel’s Decor Warehouse is checked against finished product.

What I find amazing is the time and resources spent finding original items and restoring them.  A lot of these pieces of Americana would be lost to time if Cracker Barrel didn’t dedicate itself to the preservation of these antiques.  So next time you and your friends are gathered around the table at the Old Country Store, take a second to appreciate the time and effort that went into all of the memorabilia around you, amaze your peers with your new found knowledge, then get called an Ignoramus by the peg game found on every table.

For more information on Cracker Barrel’s Decór Warehouse, check out their website.

4LN Book Review: J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Beren and Lúthien”

Beren and Lúthien has been on a 100-year journey from conception to publication.  Like previous posthumous works of Tolkien, such as Children of Hurin, and The Silmarillion, Beren and Lúthien is edited by J. R. R. Tolkien’s son Christopher Tolkien from old notes and manuscripts that belonged to his father.  This book has been on my radar for a long, long time, and I am happy that it is now available.

Summary from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

‘The tale of Beren and Lúthien was, or became, an essential element in the evolution of The Silmarillion, the myths and legends of the First Age of the World conceived by J.R.R. Tolkien. Returning from France and the battle of the Somme at the end of 1916, he wrote the tale in the following year.

‘Essential to the story, and never changed, is the fate that shadowed the love of Beren and Lúthien: for Beren was a mortal man, but Lúthien was an immortal Elf. Her father, a great Elvish lord, in deep opposition to Beren, imposed on him an impossible task that he must perform before he might wed Lúthien. This is the kernel of the legend; and it leads to the supremely heroic attempt of Beren and Lúthien together to rob the greatest of all evil beings, Melkor, called Morgoth, the Black Enemy, of a Silmaril.

In this book Christopher Tolkien has attempted to extract the story of Beren and Lúthien from the comprehensive work in which it was embedded; but that story was itself changing as it developed new associations within the larger history. To show something of the process whereby this legend of Middle-earth evolved over the years, he has told the story in his father’s own words by giving, first, its original form, and then passages in prose and verse from later texts that illustrate the narrative as it changed. Presented together for the first time, they reveal aspects of the story, both in event and in narrative immediacy, that were afterwards lost.

Published on the tenth anniversary of the last Middle-earth book, the New York Times bestseller The Children of Húrin, this new volume will similarly include drawings and color plates by Alan Lee, who also illustrated The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and went on to win Academy Awards for his work on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Like Túrin Turambar – the tragic hero of The Children of Húrin – before them, a version of Beren and Lúthien’s story appears in the first section of The Silmarillion.  What sets this book apart from other posthumous works edited by Christopher Tolkien, is that this book contains multiple tellings of the same story that offers a rare look inside the evolution of one of Tolkien’s first stories in his legendarium.  As noted in the summary above, Beren and Lúthien was conceived in 1917 shortly after Tolkien returned from WWI, and the central love story was so important to him that he had Lúthien inscribed on his beloved wife’s tombstone, and Beren inscribed on his own.

Beren and Lúthien opens with a truly fascinating preface from Christopher Tolkien in which he goes in-depth into the origins of the story, the evolution of the story, and why, at the ripe age of 93, he chose this to be his final work.  From here, Christopher provides some notes on the Elder Days, which is useful as a refresher for readers of The Silmarillion, and new readers alike.  I found these introductory pages captivating.  It’s not often you get such a comprehensive look into the mind of an author from someone who knew them as well as their own son.

The first chapter tells the first narrative version of the story which is called “The Tale of Tinúviel.”  In this early version Beren – who would eventually be re-imagined as human – is a Gnome, but not in the sense that gnomes are thought of now.  Tolkien’s use of the term “gnome” actually stems from the Greek and means “thought intelligence,” and is a race of Elves in this story.  In later versions he abandons this word as it was too misleading.

Next, each version of the story is given alongside an essay from Christopher Tolkien documenting the changes from one to the next.  The reader is also treated to the multitude of writing styles of J. R. R. Tolkien.  While the first version is told more-or-less as a narrative tale, later versions are in a complex poem-like prose that uses purposefully arcane language.

Ultimately, Beren and Lúthien is perfect for fans of J. R. R. Tolkien.  The book provides an interesting look into one of his most beloved creations, and the backstory provided by Christopher Tolkien is truly captivating. Fair warning, if you are a casual fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s, or have mainly stayed within the bounds of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, this book might be a bit on the dense side. Conversely, for those of us who’ve dug deep in the Tolkien mythos it’s a much easier read than The Silmarillion.  All-in-all, I found Beren and Lúthien to be the perfect farewell tome by Christopher Tolkien, who has provided Tolkien fans with myriads of unfinished stories about Middle-earth.

More Like This:

Wisdom from Tolkien’s Middle-earth

A Brief History of the First Age of Middle-Earth as Found in the Silmarillion and Other Writings

The Hobbit Life: How The Lord of the Rings Helped Me Become a Better Person

4LN Advanced Comic Review – SECRET WEAPONS #1

Writer: Eric Heisserer
Art: Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín
Publisher: Valiant Comics

Summary:

The government has dispatched Amanda McKee – the technopath codenamed Livewire – to investigate the ruins of a secret facility formerly run by Toyo Harada, the most powerful telepath on Earth and her former mentor. In his quest for world betterment at any cost, Harada sought out and activated many potential psiots like himself. Those who survived, but whose powers he deemed to have no value to his cause, were hidden away at this installation. But Livewire, having studied Harada’s greatest strengths and learned his deepest weaknesses, senses opportunity where he once saw failure. A young girl who can talk to birds… A boy who can make inanimate objects gently glow… To others, these are expensive disappointments. But, to Livewire, they are secret weapons…in need of a leader. Now, as a mechanized killer called Rex-O seeks to draw them out, Livewire and her new team of cadets will be forced to put their powers into action…in ways they never could have imagined…

SECRET WEAPONS works on multiple levels.  We will get into the main two levels – story and art – shortly, but on a personal level, the book’s setting is my favorite part.  SECRET WEAPONS takes place in downtown Oklahoma City near Bricktown, a place I’ve been many times.  While I am a Nashville native, OKC and surrounding areas is home to almost all of my family.  Seeing Livewire and the psiots she is working to protect roam streets that I’ve personally driven is pretty awesome.  I’m sure New Yorkers are tired of it, what with 98% of the Marvel universe rampaging through NYC, but as a son of two Okies, I love seeing it represented in comics.

SECRET WEAPONS looks and reads beautifully.  It is written by Arrival screenwriter Eric Heisserer, who is also the screenwriter for the upcoming Bloodshot and Harbinger films.  It appears that this might be his comic book debut, and it’s damn fine.  The characters are unique, and the odd powers the psiots exhibit (making inanimate objects glow, talking to birds, etc.) lead to some really good comic relief when the story gets dark.  Heisserer is joined by Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín, who go the extra mile to deliver some truly beautiful art.  Allén has such a unique style that almost resembles a type of pop art, and Martín’s colors are beautifully vibrant. One of the coolest things about this book is the work Heisserer and Allén put into making the setting authentic.  Each of the major locations are modeled after real-life landmarks in Oklahoma City, and that attention to detail sets this book apart.

If you’ve never picked up a Valiant title before, this is a good place to start. The creative team hit a home-run with all facets of this book. SECRET WEAPONS hits the stands on on June 28th, so tell your shop to order you a copy or two!

An Introduction to Comic Book Binding

It’s been a long while since we’ve provided you, our fellow nerds, with a primer.  The purpose of this series is to take an in-depth look at specific sub-genres of nerd culture, and today’s article does not stray from that premise.  Without further adieu, let’s take a look at art of comic book binding.

History

I’m going to ask you to bear with me over this next paragraph, because we are going to have a tiny history lesson.  Unlike some of our previous primers, bookbinding goes back a long way.  Remember hearing about Johann Gutenberg in history class?  Well, he is responsible for creating the movable type printing press, which allowed for faster printing.  Faster printing meant more books, and more books meant more focus on the art of bookbinding, which really took off in the late 15th century.  Also happening in the 15th century: the Aztec and Inca empires were at the height of their power. Fun fact: initially, books were shelved with the spines facing inwards, and the title inked onto the edge of the pages.  It wasn’t until Jean Grolier commissioned beautiful bindings with with lettering on the spine that they began to shelve them spines out, as is the custom now (stay tuned for my next primer on watching paint dry!).

Look, I know this might be boring for some of you, and possibly jarring since you are here to figure out if you want to get your DOOP collection professionally bound, but we really take book-bindings as they are now for granted. You’re right, though… it’s time to move onto the next portion of this primer.

Choosing a Bindery

Deciding whether to get your comic books professionally bound is a big decision.  I imagine a good sized portion of the comic community cringes at the thought of someone cutting the spine off a book and stitching it to a bunch of its comic book brethren.  Having said that, comic book binding is great for collectors like me that don’t intend to sell their books, want to keep them easily accessible, and don’t consider short boxes home decor.

I decided to give binding a shot because I have four short boxes filled with modern era Valiant Comics sitting in the back of my closet next to an expired fire extinguisher, assorted batteries, and our winter coats. A one-of-a-kind hardback book (that I helped design, no less) filled with some of my favorite comics was just too good to pass up.  After doing some research on the Google, I decided to go with Herring and Robinson Book Binders. Herring and Robinson is a family owned library bindery that began business in 1920. Before I decided to pull the trigger, I gave them a call to learn about the binding process.  They graciously answered all my questions during my initial phone call, and stayed in touch via email throughout.  Ultimately, it was their customer service that won me over.

Prepping Your Books for Binding

First and foremost, it’s important to decide which series or event you are binding.  For my first foray into binding, I chose my X-O Manowar collection, which included issues #1-50, two #0 issues, and two annuals.  Once you choose your books, it’s time to get them into the order you want.  While each volume could be up to 2 1/2″ thick, I decided to break my collection into two volumes so the gutter loss would not be as bad.  The first volume would include issues #1-25, and the second volume would include #26-50, with the #0’s and annuals put in according to when they were released.

Now comes the hard part… if you want to take away some of the thickness, or you find it more aesthetically pleasing, you can remove the ads throughout the comic as long as it doesn’t include any of the actual panels. While yes, you are technically cutting into a comic book which could be considered blasphemous, it’s for the greater good.  I decided to remove the last few pages of each book, because these usually contained previews for upcoming Valiant titles, which I didn’t need.  To do this, I simply grabbed my trusty Wrath of the Eternal Warrior box-cutter, and cut just to the right of the center line to avoid the staples.  Some binderies also prefer the buyer to remove the staples prior to sending, but Herring and Robinson don’t require this.  Once the pages are removed put the issues back in the correct order, place some comic boards on the top and bottom to protect the pages, and wrap them with a few rubber-bands.

I have included some photos of how I prepped my books below.  They are not for the faint of heart…

The Eternal Warrior always wins

 

Placing Your Order

Herring and Robinson provides a myriad of options for customizing your book.  You can have double lines, single lines, die-stamps, lettering, and choose the placement of everything. Then you have to choose the type and color of the binding, and the color of the lines and lettering, add a ribbon or headband, it’s… let’s just say you have a lot to think about .  I spent a lot of time figuring out exactly how I wanted the spine to look.  I eventually settled on double lines at the top and bottom, sans-serif lettering, the buckram material in royal blue with silver lettering.  Herring and Robinson provides the following order form, that has a diagram of the spine and front cover, so you can show them exactly how you want it to look by sketching it out.

New_Order_Slip

Now, pack the order form in with your books, make sure it’s well protected, and ship it off to Herring and Robinson.  The wait begins.

The Final Product

Their website says it will take 6-8 weeks for the order to be completed, but after only 4 weeks I received my invoice and tracking number.  I’m not going to lie, when I saw that my package was out for delivery and my mailman was running later than usual I stared out my window like Michael Scott stares at Toby.  The wait paid off when I pulled these beautiful books out of their package:

For a price tag of around $30 a book, I ended up with two beautiful, one-of-a-kind books that will look great on my nerd shelf.  The quality of these books is mind-boggling.  They are solidly constructed, and feel great to the touch.  But, is comic book binding for everyone? Probably not.  There are those that cringe at the thought of ravaging their comics with a razor blade.  Those of you, like me, who don’t plan on selling your collection, want to be able to display them proudly, and can make it through the prep, comic book binding is definitely worth it.  I am beyond happy with how my first foray into bound comics turned out, and I will definitely be sending more over the next few months.