Four Letter Nerd

Tag - Lord of the Rings

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

Fantasy Books to Read While Waiting for Game of Thrones Next Summer

The sad news, though it’s been expected for awhile now, is official: Game of Thrones will only run seven episodes next season. And thanks to the appearance of winter (finally!!) in the story line, producers will start shooting later than usual. That means our usual April start date for a new season is getting pushed back to sometime next summer.

So what do you do this extended offseason while waiting for Game of Thrones’ delayed return? How about sinking your teeth into a solidly written fantasy book series.

Here’s a couple of exceptional works to check out while enduring the long wait for Season Seven:

1. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss

Kingkiller Chronicles

Patrick Rothfuss, a modern day fantasy writer whose received much acclaim from George R.R. Martin himself, wrote the first “Kingkiller Chronicle” book, “The Name of the Wind” in 2007. The story follows a great adventurer named Kvothe as he recalls the story of his life over the course of three days (each book representing a different day).

Much like Tolkien, Rothfuss really focuses on detail, emphasizing the mundane parts of Kvothe’s journey as well as the landmark events. And though the world in “Kingkiller” has political complications similar to Westeros, Rothfuss exposes the reader to situations through the eyes of someone of “low birth” as oppossed to the members of noble families Martin uses to tell his story.

Now much like Martin, Rothfuss has been slow to get his third book finished (A Wise Man’s Fear was released in 2011). But at least “The Kingkiller Chronicle” is likely to be finished before Lionsgate makes a film/tv version of the series.

2. The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson

Stormlight Archives

“The Stormlight Archive” follows the Martin style of alternating third person perspectives as Brandon Sanderson presents a world coming to grips with both a looming threat and the reemergence of mystical powers lost thousands of years before.

But while Sanderson’s world has as similar scope to Martin’s, he centralizes it on a hand full of characters in one central location instead of bouncing around all over the map. This makes his story easy to follow, but (at least at this point) lack some of the “punch in the gut”moments that make Martin’s work so special. He also does a nice job anchoring his story with a flashback arc for one major character that provides insight into why they think and act as they do in the present.

Sanderson has currently released two of his books: “The Way of Kings” and “Words of Radiance.” The third book of five (with a possible ten if a second set of five books goes on as planned), “Oathbringer,” has a tentative release set for sometime next year.

3. Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

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Yes, the artwork on the covers of these books is really cheesy. But the story absolutely is not. It also takes two books for the story to really establish itself. But once it does, “The Wheel of Time” is very hard to put down.

Robert Jordan focuses mostly on a group of central characters who begin the story together (much like Tolkien’s “Fellowship of the Ring”) only to take distinct paths as the story progresses. And like Martin, Jordan’s world is full of distinct political alliances and situations. But while Martin bounces back and forth between all these different areas, Jordan mostly uses the central characters to introduce and update us on the conditions of these diverse locations.

The downside to Jordan’s books is they are a long haul. The series is comprised of 14 books and 1 prequel book. In fact, Jordan died before the series was completed. So Brandon Sanderson (the author of the previously mentioned “Stormlight Archive”) stepped in to finish it.

But if 14 books is not too large a commitment for you, I strongly recommend Jordan/Sanderson’s masterpiece.

4. Read the Classics

Martin vs. Tolkien

Or you could just stick with GoT’s source material. If you haven’t read “A Song of Ice and Fire,” jump on Martin’s series first. Though Martin’s books can be just as long as the previously mentioned authors, they read much quicker. And the experience is a distinctly different one than the TV series, so don’t let the spoilers you already know from the show discourage you from reading the books.

The same goes for J.R.R. Tolkien, the father of modern fantasy. Yes, it is a chore to get through the first half of the first “Lord of the Rings” book, “Fellowship of the Ring.” But if you’re willing to see it through, Tolkien rewards you with, arguably, the best work of fantasy fiction of all time. And much like Martin’s work, the books are a much different experience than the movies.

And if you’ve been through all of Tolkien’s works (including “The Hobbit”), check out “The Silmarillion,” the Middle Earth origin story that is much darker than Tolkien’s previous works. 4LN’s Cam Clark wrote this piece about the Silmarillion. He also recently did a brief history of Middle Earth using “The Silmarillion” and other works by Tolkien.

I’m currently working my way through the Wheel of Time series. And I’m also hopeful “The Winds of Winter” will be available before Season Seven starts (though I’m not holding my breath on this). What are some other works you’ve been reading or plan to read while we wait on the next season of Game of Thrones?

4LN Movie Review – The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

In my opinion, the three Hobbit movies have been a bit of a letdown. Not necessarily in the quality of the movies, but in the experience of the films. The reason for my disappointment is because it’s hard not to compare the three Hobbit films to their predecessors, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy from the early to mid 2000’s (remember when it only took one movie to express the story of a book).

Anyone with an affinity for nerd culture owes a significant debt of gratitude to those films. Before LoTR, stories of fantasy were only appreciated by a few while being soundly dismissed by the majority. “Have fun reading those graphic novels, playing those silly board games, and dressing up for those silly comic conventions you guys go to. We’ll sit in here and enjoy our 90’s sitcoms and action hero/end of the world flicks, thank you very much,” said most of America until Peter Jackson convinced New Line Cinema to lay down between 200 and 250 million dollars on the production of three Tolkien inspired films (unheard of at the time because of the disaster a first movie flop could mean for the production company).

But then, “Fellowship of the Ring” hit the theaters. J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, only familiar to a few before, was now being experienced by the masses. And the graphics!!!! Revolutionary in its use of CGI, Jackson recreated Middle Earth on a scale that would not have been possible even five years before. “Return of the King” would take best picture at the Oscars a couple of years later. I remember walking into a packed theater at the Opry Mills 20 in Nashville on opening night as we watched the final three hour installment of Jackson’s masterpiece.

Fast forward to today and the once taboo nerd culture is all around us. Book series’ being bankrolled for multiple movies has become the norm with Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight, Harry Potter, and some HBO TV show based on a book series I am somewhat familiar with. CGI is now expected by moviegoers (a key element, in my opinion, to the popularity of the ongoing Marvel Universe, beginning with Iron Man in 2008).

But as the final Hobbit movie is released this weekend, any buzz for its arrival is extremely muted. I am sure many will go see it and hundreds of millions of dollars will be made, but lacking is the excitement that was present for “Return of the King.” And “Battle of Five Armies” can thank its predecessor for that. The graphics in the Hobbit are spectacular, but they are in every movie now. The movie wastes no time getting right to the action, settling the previous editions cliffhanger. But it’s the third movie, and so we now expect the third of a trilogy to waste no time with plot points and pleasantries between characters. “Battle of Five Armies” is very entertaining filled with action throughout, but it wasn’t the same experience as sitting in that packed house in Nashville on opening night in 2004 when LoTR, the pioneer for modern cinema, finished its run.

Now, if you can forget what you experienced a decade ago, treat “Battle” as its own stand- alone experience, then you will still enjoy this picture. When we last left Bilbo and his dwarf friends, they thought they had killed Smaug, the dragon who was sitting on Thorin Oakenshield’s treasure. But Smaug escapes, and we are left with a cliffhanger: Smaug is free and ready to wreak havoc on Dale, the village inhabited by men close by. As a book reader, I appreciate Jackson playing out in real time important scenes that Tolkien, for some odd reason, chose not to.

Tolkien told the tale of Smaug’s attack on the city of Dale in a flashback. But Jackson opens “Battle” with a conclusion to this as well as Gandalf’s dealings with the Necromancer. Once again, this is another issue Tolkien chose to deal with off the pages of the book, having Gandalf disappear for half the book to deal with it, only to come back later and say, “It’s taken care of.” The Necromancer scene also sets the stage for the events in LoTR just like any good prequel should do.

The rest, and most significant part, of the movie deals with the battle. Recall that throughout the trilogy, the dwarves, on their way to reclaiming their gold, have angered orcs, goblins, elves, and men. All these groups are heading to the mountain the dwarves are sitting in to settle each of their particular grudges. While the first LoTR movies had very clearly defined good guys and bad guys, the third Hobbit movie does not (at least not when all these groups first converge). I like the range of emotions the different characters express in the events leading to and events that happen throughout the battle. Each group has their own selfish interests in mind, which is far more realistic than the good vs. evil fight to save the world in “Return.” I did feel as if some characters (and the overall conclusion of the battle) were shortchanged as the battle scene wound down towards its conclusion. But the goal of a movie is to entertain. And “The Battle of Five Armies” does that, even if any buzz it creates blends in with all the other noise from all the other series movies LoTR helped originate.


(Editor’s Note: This review was written by Jeff Merrick.)

Nerdy-licious Dishes! Thanksgiving Edition

(Editor’s note: This article was written by Shandi; personal chef to one big nerd, and three little nerdlings.)


With Thanksgiving right around the corner here are some last minute recipe ideas to satisfy your hunger and your inner nerd.



Crab Stuffed Baked Cyclon Raiders (Battlestar Galactica)


1 large green onion, white and green part minced and chopped

2 tablespoons roasted red peppers  (or jarred minced pimentos)

1/2 lb crabmeat (Fresh or vacuum packed packaged and press it dry through a mesh strainer)

2/3 cup breadcrumbs

1 egg, beaten

1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

1/3 cup mayonnaise

4 tablespoons fresh parsley (minced very finely)

paprika, for lightly sprinkling

Crescent Rolls


Mix ingredients and roll into crescent rolls. Use a tiny red pepper for the eye of the Cyclon Raider. Bake according to crescent roll packaging.



Drink – Alcoholic

Captain Jack Harness Emergency Protocol 417 (Doctor Who)


2 parts Gin

2 parts Vodka

1/2 part Dry vermouth

1 Lemon twist


Stir gin to chill and strain into a martini glass. With fresh ice, shake vodka and vermouth vigorously. Strain into same glass as gin. Take a lemon twist, rim the glass, and garnish. Sip and muse on the impossible.



Drink – Non-Alcoholic

Butterbeer (Harry Potter)


1 cup (8 oz) club soda or cream soda

1/2 cup (4 oz) butterscotch syrup (ice cream topping)

1/2 tablespoon butter


Measure butterscotch and butter into a 2 cup (16 oz) glass. Microwave on high for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes, or until syrup is bubbly and butter is completely incorporated.

 Stir and cool for 30 seconds, then slowly mix in club soda. Mixture will fizz quite a bit.

Serve in two coffee mugs or small glasses; a perfectly warm Hogwarts treat for two!




Jar Jar Salad (Star Wars)

(You now have the chance to destroy Jar Jar Binks, you’re welcome.)


1 large jicama. Though you might want to get an extra as a backup!

2 large carrots

1 cup red onion

1 red pepper

1 yellow pepper

1 large tomato

2 ripe limes

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

2 tablespoons olive oil

Pinch of ground cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons cilantro


Create Jar Jar by following the instructions on the link below.

 Julien the remaining vegetables. For the dressing: Squeeze the limes into a separate, small bowl and whisk in the vinegar, honey, olive oil and cayenne pepper. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the lime mixture over the chopped veggies, add the chopped cilantro and toss. Carefully place Jar Jar in the middle, then let sit for 30 minutes.


Or if you’re really ambitious, try to recreate this Alien Salad:


Main Course

Baked York Ham (The Chronicles of Narnia)


1 12-14 lb York Ham (substitute for country ham such as Smithfield if necessary)

1.5 cups of ale

1 Tablespoon Whole Cloves

2 Tablespoons English Mustard

2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar

2 Tablespoons Honey


Place the ham in a large pot and cover completely with cool water. Drain and refill every 8 hours for 48 hours

 Preheat the oven to 425. Line a large roasting pan with foil extending 12 inches over each side. Remove the ham from the water and put in the middle of the pan.  Cover the ham with ale. Then completely cover with foil, creating a tent. The foil should be tightly sealed with room for air to circulate. Bake for 3.5-4 hours.

30 min before end of cooking time, remove from the oven.  Uncover the ham and remove the skin leaving behind as much fat as  you can. Score the fat in a diamond pattern with a sharp knife. Stud the center of each diamond with a clove.

Combine English Mustard, brown sugar and honey in a bowl to make a glaze. Brush the glaze over the ham. Return to oven, reduce heat to 350 and cook for 30 min.

When the ham is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest for 15 min. Slice and serve.

source: The Unofficial Narnia Cookbook


Side Dish

Lembas Bread (Hobbit / Lord of the Rings)


3 eggs

1 cup honey (preferably orange)

1 tablespoon orange zest

2 teaspoons orange flower water (optional)

3 ounces blanched almonds

1/4 cup melted butter

2 1/4 cups semolina flour

1/2 teaspoon salt


Mix eggs, honey, orange peel, orange flower water, and almonds in blender on high for 3 minutes.

 Add 1 cup flour; blend for one minute.

Scrape in bowl and add remaining flour and salt.

Whisk until well blended.

Drop spoonfuls on hot pizzelle or krumkake iron and bake for 15 seconds or until lightly browned.




Spiced Squash (Game of Thrones)


1 large acorn squash

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

 In a small saucepan, heat the maple syrup over medium heat, stirring in the spices. Stir constantly over heat for 3 minutes, do not boil. Remove syrup from heat. Cut the acorn squash into slices about 1 inch thick, removing the seeds. Arrange in one layer in a baking dish. Spoon the syrup mixture over the squash, and cook in a 375 F oven till tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, drizzle more heated syrup over the top, and serve.




Pumpkin Pi (Mathematics)



2 pie crusts

  • 2 cups cooked, canned, or mashed pumpkin

  • 2 slightly beaten eggs

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger

  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg or allspice

  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves

  • 1 pint of melted vanilla ice cream (optional)


Line a pie pan with pie dough. Bake at 425ºF, until lightly brown (also known as “blind baking”). Be sure to prick some holes in the base to allow steam to escape.

At this point, set aside a little of the pie dough to cut and shape the Pi symbol. Place it in the oven to bake as well. Follow the image for your template, or even cut a template out using light cardboard.

 Combine and mix the pumpkin with the eggs. Mix both ingredients well.

Add the brown sugar in and mix again so that the brown sugar is well folded into the mixture.

Combine the spices to the pint of melted ice cream.

Pour the ice cream mixture into the pumpkin mix. Mix until well blended so that the white streaks from the ice cream disappear. Pour the mixture into the pie shell.

Bake at 425ºF for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350ºF/180ºC and bake about 45 minutes longer or until inserted knife comes out clean.

Allow to cool slightly. Add the Pi symbol.

Serve with whipped cream.


And just in time for Christmas, here are some great gift ideas for the Nerd Chef in your life…

 Nerd Cookbooks:

The Unofficial Narnia Cookbook

Cooking for Geeks

A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook

The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook


Foam Swords and Plastic Bullets: A Look at Airsoft and LARPing

A few times a year I will get together with some friends of mine and we will go to the local airsoft field to play. It’s a large wooded area with several buildings, some three stories high, strewn about. These games can last for anywhere one hour to all day events. It’s a lot of fun gearing up and running and gunning through the woods.

This weekend I attended an 8-hour airsoft milsim (military simulation) game. As I was looking at all of the people gearing up around the parking lot/staging area, I began to ponder the similarities and differences between airsoft and LARPing, which stands for Live Action Role Play.

LARPing, in the most general sense, has been around for ages. Remember playing Cowboys and Indians? Power Rangers? How about pretending to be a Jedi when you were a kid… (or adult)? Those could all be considered LARPing in a loose interpretation. It’s hard to pinpoint when organized LARPing began to form. The first recorded LARPing group is Dagorhir, which began in 1977.

Hipsters: seen here LARPing ironically.

Hipsters: seen here LARPing “ironically.”

 Bryan Wiese, the creator of Dagorhir, watched the movie Robin and Marion while he was reading the Lord of the Rings, and decided he wanted something that captured the spirit of adventure that comes from wielding a sword. After running advertisements on the local radio-station and connecting with like-minded individuals, Bryan became “Aratar Anfinhir the Stormbringer,” and LARPing began to take off in the United States.

Several of these groups use rules similar to those found in the tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. Dagorhir does not allow “magic,” while other groups do depending on the setting. LARPing participants attempt to physically portray characters in a fictional setting. The LARPers often improvise their characters speech and movements, dress in era-appropriate garb, and wield era-appropriate weapons, typically made of foam (so the battles do not end like a scene from the movie Gladiator).


Are you not entertained!?

A lot of stereotypes exist when discussing LARPers. Surprisingly, one of the more accurate (and probably most mainstream) depictions of LARPers is found in the movie Role Models. Obviously there were some exaggerated characters in the film. The King (Ken Jeong, you probably remember him as the naked guy that jumped out of the trunk in Hangover) never breaks character, even when eating at the Burger Hole with his cronies, and is over-the-top at all times.

Now let’s take a look at airsoft. Airsoft games are very similar to paintball matches, with the main difference being the realism of the guns. Airsoft guns originated in Japan and slowly spread to China, Europe, and the United States. They shoot 6mm plastic pellets, and usually fire between 300-500 FPS (feet per second) depending on the rules of the field.

These guns often emulate real firearms and have similar, customizable accessories. Suppressors, lasers, holographic sights, ACOG’s, freaking grenade launchers, anything that you’ve seen in real life or in Call of Duty is available.  They even have Airsoft Claymores.  The weapons are highly customizable, and that’s part of the fun. The military even uses airsoft guns for CQB (close-quarter battle) training.

Probably the biggest similarity between the two is the game day dress. LARPers try to dress in period appropriate clothes. Dagorhir even has specific rules stating what you can and cannot wear to keep the sense of realism. Sorry man, your t-shirt with that witty joke on it is not going to fly.


The ladies love it.

Most airsoft players dress in military garb, and like the weaponry, it is highly customizable. Some emulate specific military units, be it SEALs, Rangers, or Marines, while others look like the Predator, minus the wrist mounted nuclear device. There are several companies that sell military style gear for relatively cheap. You can get all sorts of vests, camo patterns, patches, pockets, helmets, pouches, hats, radios, headsets, holsters, boots, kneepads, or face protectors on the cheap, and these can be assembled in an almost infinite number of ways. Like in LARPing some of the people look awesome, and some of them look like idiots.


I think the biggest difference between the two is kind of people they attract. LARPing definitely attracts a slightly more awkward group of people. Airsoft milsim’s attract those people too, and this group probably makes up one third of the crowd. The other two thirds are either prior military/law enforcement, or people who are relatively in shape and enjoy playing military without the actual threat of dying, and it can be hilarious seeing them all interact. Some of the kids come out there and expect to be able to play like they do in Call of Duty, and they get lit up. It’s hilarious.

At the game this weekend there was a group of kids that looked like the creepy guy that you were always kind of wary of in high school, with their black clothes and scraggly beards (one of the them had a hatchet in a holster on his leg), and right next to them was a Vietnam War veteran in warpaint and a Duck Dynasty beard. It was glorious.

LARPing and airsoft have a lot in common. They both have historical reenactments, there is an airsoft game called Operation Irene, which based on the battle of Mogadishu in 1993, as well as WWII era games. They both wear period specific clothing and do simulated battle. Logistically, they are just about the same. Ultimately, the biggest difference between the two is the stigma attached. LARPers are automatically looked down on by society, while airsoft is a more socially acceptable.

As much as it pains me to say it… the milsim I participated in this weekend is almost identical to LARPing, they just have better nicknames (see: Aratar Anfinhir the Stormbringer).