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Dec 16

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – A Review

Posted on Sunday, December 16, 2012 in Film, Rant, Review



YOU SHOULD NOT PASS… if you haven’t seen the movie and want to be surprised.

You have been warned…

Okay, the disclaimer is out of the way. Today, I went with the family to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the 3-D HFR version. Having now seen it, I’m surprised at the vitriol that’s been heaped on the movie by some (e.g., here and here just to name two). Maybe “vitriol” is too strong a word, but it seems some of the negative press is unwarranted. I’ve also seen Tolkien fans that have written reviews saying they’re not even going to see movies two and three in this trilogy. I’m planning on seeing the next two without question. To me, An Unexpected Journey seemed like a quick three hours. There were some parts that dragged on too long (more on that below) and some superfluous material, but, overall, it kept my attention, didn’t offend my sensitive Tolkien sensibilities (too much – again, see below), and was a fairly enjoyable and entertaining ride. I just have to remember that any shortcomings of the film in no detract from Tolkien’s work and world. The films aren’t canon. They’re based on an interpretation of Tolkien’s work and can stand or fall on their own.

Some of the best parts, in my opinion, in no particular order were:

  • The scenes inside Bilbo’s hobbit hole. These were, for the most part, true to the book (in spirit if not literally). I’ve read some reviews that talk negatively about the dishwashing sequence but found this to be very faithful to the book itself.
  • Elrond showing up in his armor. No, it wasn’t in the book, but it always bothered me that Rivendell was supposed to be this idyllic sanctuary in the mountains. How did it stay safe? Well, it makes sense that Elrond and his house would ride out once in a while to “take care of business” in the neighborhood. Plus we got some Sindarin in here 🙂
  • The opening prologue inside and around Erebor. Seeing Thrór, Thráin, and Thorin ensconced in their kingdom and getting a glimpse of Dwarven culture was very interesting. Plus this also gave us a peek at Smaug’s feet and fire. The scene with all the dwarves waiting inside Erebor as flames lick at the front door was very cool.
  • Radagast. Yes, Radagast. As a character design, I thought he worked very well. I have other misgivings about him in the movie, but overall his look and action seemed very in keeping with what I had always thought about the brown wizard.
  • Seeing the progression of Balin from Erebor, to Azanulbizar, to the “present”. The only issue here (literal book-wise) is that Thorin is actually older than Balin: Thorin was 24 when Smaug attacked Erebor; Balin was 7.
  • Gandalf’s look on his face when he finds that Saruman has shown up at Rivendell. I could almost hear a “Oh, man, it’s my boss.”
  • Gollum and riddle game. This was worth seeing the HFR version right here! Gollum is absolutely amazing looking, and Andy Serkis is in full command of bringing Gollum to life.

Before we go any further, let me address the conlanging aspect of the movie. There was some Sindarin in Rivendell. It’s always nice to be able to pick up a word here and there. I got Gandalf’s “Mellon nin!” even before I read the subtitle. Yay, me. I was very disappointed I didn’t hear any Khuzdul (except maybe a snippet from Bifur). However, as I was given a heads-up by Erunno Alcarinollo on Twitter, I expected a lack of Khuzdul and that the orcs seem to be speaking the Black Speech or at least some orcish dialect of it. Interesting turn of events when both the elves and the orcs get subtitles. But it’s not all the orcs. The goblins of the Misty Mountains still speak English with a British accent although they know the ones who speak only Black Speech. (We know this because the Goblin King is going to send a message to the leader of the Black Speech orcs.) And even the Black-Speech-speaking orcs seem to have some auto-tune reverb thing going on with their voices. I am looking forward to some notes online on the Black Speech in the film.

I’m going to assume that Black Speech and Khuzdul maybe sounded too much alike to do them both in the film. Plus, some movie-goers may have said, “Okay, the dwarves were speaking with subtitles before but now they’re speaking in English. What’s up with that? And why are those orcs speaking the dwarves’ language? I don’t get it!” So, I’m going to cut some slack to Peter Jackson and let the Khuzdul go. However, I still want to hear a “Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd aimênu” at the Battle of Five Armies, most likely from the armies of the Iron Hills.

Okay, so that brings us back to this band of Black-Speech-speaking orcs and their leader, Azog. Yes, that Azog. We see him, Thorin, and Balin in the Battle of Azanulbizar. I was really looking forward to this but found the movie adaptation somewhat disappointing. Azog, referred to subsequently in the film as the Pale Orc, becomes the primary antagonist of Thorin & Company because of an extreme hatred of Thorin himself. It seems… SPOILER! again… after Azog beheads Thrór in the battle (not as in the Appendices), Thorin battles the orc chieftain and cuts off the orc’s forearm. Inexplicably, the orcs carry their leader back into Moria, the dwarves claim victory, and Thorin assumes Azog dies. Bad move, Mr. Oakenshield. Azog sticks an iron claw on his forearm (with a nice spike sticking out of his elbow) and swears vengeance on the “Dwarf-scum” or whatever Black Speech phrase means that.

The creation of Azog’s revenge seems to be a superfluous sub-plot for the film. If Peter Jackson did want to have this storyline, it seems a better tactic might have been to have Azog fighting at Azanulbizar with his son Bolg. I don’t know how you show this, but having Azog kill Thrór, then have Thorin kill Azog (yes, I know he didn’t kill Azog but I’ll give them some leeway here), and have Bolg retreat (maybe with the look in his eyes as the orcs of Mordor when the Rohirrim rode down on them in Pelennor Fields in The Return of the King). But showing an orc swearing revenge on someone who slew his father might be ascribing too many emotions to orcs (who are really the expendable Star-Wars-stormtroopers or battle droids of The Lord of the Rings films).

And Azog really does look like a very good CG video game character, but a CG video game character nonetheless. If they were going with an orc antagonist, it would have been nice to see something like Lurtz. I do have to agree with those who have mentioned that aspect of the movie.

I mentioned above that I enjoyed the look and behavior of Radagast. I still stand by that. My only beef with Radagast in the film was the… SPOILER! again… rabbit-sled race to distract the orc band. “These are Rhosgobel rabbits!” I don’t even know what that means? He breeds super rabbits? And the sled just goes around and around, constantly bringing the orcs back to Thorin & Company who finally find a way to escape on their own. And Radagast just disappears then. It’s really Elrond and his elves who get rid of the orcs. So, the sled race went on way too long and, in my opinion, was superfluous in the first place.

Another part that went on a little too long was the Stone-giants scene in the Misty Mountains. I’m fine with them being in the film, but it seemed prolonged and didn’t really move the story forward. A few boulders crashing through the rain and knocking debris down on the company would have been plenty.

Just a brief note on the HFR: It didn’t really thrill me nor distract me. Maybe I’m just jaded from watching HDTV at home. Other than seeing the weave of Bilbo’s shirt and an absolutely stunning, crisp Gollum in all his slimy paleness, the HFR was just fine but nothing to get really worked up about (positively or negatively).

So, as you can see there were some disappointments but some absolutely enchanting moments, too. It could have been a great movie, but it wasn’t a failure as some seem to have suggested. Even with what I know of Peter Jackson’s additions and alterations, I’m still looking forward to seeing The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again.

Dec 9

Thoughts on The Lord of the Rings Marathon

Posted on Sunday, December 9, 2012 in Film, Rant, Review

Yesterday, I attended The Lord of the Rings Marathon at my local movie theater. This was an all-day showing of each of Peter Jackson’s films based on Toikien’s magnum opus from 11:00 am to 11:30pm (with only a half hour break between each film). I also saw it with my children who never got the chance to see the films on the big screen when they were first released so that was fun, too. Viewing the film trilogy in one fell swoop was an eye-opening experience and really allowed me to see the work as a whole. I’d like to share some thoughts and favorite moments from the films. Some of these will be familiar from ten years of voluminous commentary in print and online, but this is meant to be my subjective reaction to Jackson’s opus.

There were probably around 20 to 25 people in the theater for our marathon, so it was somewhat of a shared experience. There were even a couple women who showed up in medieval gowns. Of course, no one talked to anyone else, but we all clapped when each film was over, and giggles went through the audience at several key points: Boromir’s “One does not simply walk into Mordor” line, Sam’s “PO-TA-TOES” line, Legolas’ “They’re taking the hobbits to Isengard“, and several others. My daughter and I enjoyed Elrond’s facepalm during the Council.

One of the things that struck me was the prevalence of clasped hands. Take a notice next time you happen to watch these films. I often saw one character reaching out for another’s hand and the other grasping the outstretched hand. The two biggies are Frodo rescuing Sam from the water when leaving the Fellowship, and Sam rescuing Frodo in the Sammath Naur. There are a number of others, and I wish I had kept track. One of the reasons it struck me was when it didn’t happen. When Aragorn stretches out his hand to Gríma after Théoden is ready to kill Wormtongue on the steps of Meduseld… and Gríma spits on Aragorn’s outstretched hand.

Not having viewed the trilogy for quite some time, another thing that struck me was the prevalence of tears. I knew there was crying, but, wow, that was a lot of tears over 12 hours of movies.

And the last plot device that struck me was people plunging off of cliffs. Gandalf in the first (okay, it’s a chasm but the effect’s the same); Aragorn in the second (not in the book); Denethor, Frodo and Gollum in the third (only one of those goes over in the book). Even Boromir plunged off the Falls of Rauros, but he was already dead. I may be reading too much into this, but it looked to me like Middle-earth needed a lot more signage to alert people of dangerous cliffs.

I do have some favorite moments from Jackson’s films:

  • Gandalf and the Bridge of Khazad-dûm
  • Gandalf driving out Saruman from Théoden
  • The ride of the Rohirrim into the forces of Mordor on the Pelennor
  • Any scene with Sindarin in it 🙂

There are more, but those really spring to mind. I do find it interesting that none of those first three occur in the movie exactly as they transpired in the canon. For example:

Fire came from [the Balrog’s] nostrils. But Gandalf stood firm
“You cannot pass,” he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. “I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.”

“You cannot pass!”

Yes, a lot of the film dialogue in that scene is from the movie, but I think the change from “You cannot pass” to “You shall not pass” was a very good decision.

The episode between Gandalf and Théoden is also much more dramatic in the film than the book. The addition of Saruman’s possession of the king of Rohan appears to have helped that plot point along in the film. Kudos again to Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair and Peter Jackson. Finally, the ride of the Rohirrim. One scene I did want to see there was Théoden blowing on the horn until it “burst asunder” although I realize that might be a little difficult to pull off realistically.

I do believe that Jackson absolutely got the casting spot on with Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey and Christopher Lee as Saruman the White. In fact, McKellen’s Gandalf is one of the major reasons I can’t wait to see The Hobbit this coming week. In my opinion, Théoden, as portrayed by Bernard Hill, was also very regal and convincing. The design team also hit the nail on the head with the Black Riders, right down to the nails coming out of the bloody hooves of the horses. And Andy Serkis’ Gollum/Smeagol is always amazing (and disturbing… in a good way) to watch.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some scenes and plot points I don’t particularly like:

  • Elves at Helm’s Deep: If the Elves were going to show up anywhere, it would have been to come to the aid of Minas Tirith
  • Elrond himself bringing Narsil to Aragorn: This is like Capt. Kirk always having to lead the away team (Although I did go back to the book and see that Elrond’s son, Elrohir, was the one to remind Aragorn about taking the Paths of the Dead).
  • The avalanche of skulls in the Paths of the Dead: WTF?
  • Faramir taking Frodo, Sam, and Gollum to Osgiliath: Seemed a little needless
  • Aragorn’s angst: The “book Aragorn” seemed much more sure of himself and his duty to be king
  • Denethor’s death

That last one especially still bothers me. After watching it again yesterday, it seems to me that it would be easy to blame Gandalf for Denethor’s getting torched. In the film, Denethor even has a last moment of sanity looking at his son’s face before he bursts into flames and runs off the cliff. And it looked to me like Shadowfax either pushed him onto the pyre or, at the very least, Denethor was trying to get away from the rearing horse. In the book, it’s Denethor that takes the torch and leaps onto the pyre. He takes an active role in his self-immolation. In the film, it looks, in the end, to happen almost by accident.

I really enjoy the movies, but I have to remember that they’re based on Tolkien’s work. Masterfully adapted in many cases and even (gasp) improved-upon in some, but based nonetheless. I find that the films drive me back to the books and Middle-earth again, and maybe that is the most important thing. I’m fine with some people only experiencing Middle-earth through Jackson’s prism, but I would compare it to someone only knowing the Iliad through the Brad Pitt film. Yes, you can get a good idea of the characters and the plot, but there’s no substitute for returning to the source material.

Hannon le, Tolkien. Hannon le, Peter Jackson. Eglerio!

Nov 10

New Titles from Oxford University Press: A Conlanger’s Review

Posted on Saturday, November 10, 2012 in Books, Nonfiction, Review

My reader’s copies of two new books from Oxford University Press have been languishing for some time waiting for me to review them. My original plan was to do in-depth reviews for each for Fiat Lingua as I did for From Elvish to Klingon. That work was directly relevant to conlanging, and a full-length review was easily written. The one’s I’ve recently received are not directly related to language creation, but they do provide some interesting reading and can be helpful for conlangers. That being the case, I wanted to at least review them and post to this blog.

Julie Coleman’s The Life of Slang (Oxford University Press, 2012) Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Buy online from Find at a library near you provides a very thorough examination of that aspect of language. The author looks at slang in English across time, over a wide geographic area, and throughout various levels of society. The first chapter looks at what slang is and what slang isn’t. According to Coleman,

“Words don’t have slanghood: there’s no state of slangness inherent in a word or even in a sense of a word. It’s only possible to identify an individual use of a word in a given context as slang. To work out whether these examples were slang or not, you’d have needed to know who was speaking, who there they were speaking to, where they were, what they were doing, when they were speaking, and what they meant.

This begins to address where I see Coleman’s book’s usefulness for conlangers and worldbuilders. Slang has the potential to be a productive in-world source of vocabulary as well as a way to provide much more depth to conworlds. Thinking of ways to relate unrelated words (or to give your words “folk etymologies”) is also one of the benefits conlangers can get from reading The Life of Slang. For example, Coleman tells the story of the words dent (in the sense of “a hollow impression”), dentist, and dental. Dent is not related to the two tooth-related words although a folk etymology could be understood in that one can “picture the dent left in a car as a bite mark, with the jagged eges of the metal representing teeth marks.” Dent actually comes from the Old English dynt “a stroke or blow with a weapon”* and predates the tooth-related words.

There are a number of ways in which slang can be created (and potentially be adopted into the standard language) and all these can potentially be exploited by conlangers. Slang can come from:

  • Changes in meaning
  • Changes in function
  • Changes in form (e.g., combining forms)
  • By abbreviation
  • Changes in spelling

Coleman addresses each of these and says, “Most slang words are produced in ways that aren’t particularly different from the ways Standard English words are produced.”

The Life of Slang also provides some alternative societal origins for slang (and thus con-vocabulary). Coleman goes into depth talking about military slang, prison slang, street slang, school/college slang, and cant (the language of beggars and criminals) and flash (the language of thieves). In fact, the chapter on cant and flash language is one of the most interesting ones in the book.

The book addresses both British and American slang and also examines more recent uses of slang like 1337 and jargon used in World of Warcraft. The fact that “words often play a social as well as a communicative function” could readily be taken advantage of in creating a con-vocabulary.

Other slang-related works include Slang: The People’s Poetry by Michael Adams (also author of From Elvish to Klingon and Slayer Slang: The Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon) and Jonathon Green’s 3-volume Green’s Dictionary of Slang. In an effort to provide depth to one’s conlang vocabulary and to one’s con-world, taking a look at the life of slang might be a useful endeavor.

The other book I recently received is the New Oxford Rhyming Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Buy online from amazon.comFind at a library near you. At first glance, it’s a handy volume for English rhymes but, I wondered, of what use could it be for a conlanger? The 24-page introduction, however, gives a good overview of different kinds of rhyme (e.g., mosaic rhyme, eye rhyme, embedded rhyme, etc.) as well as its place in history. For those thinking about poetry in their conlang, this is enticing reading. The little notes embedded in the dictionary itself can be somewhat eye-opening as well. For example, under the entry for alphanumeric one finds “Create extra rhymes by adding -al to words like atmospheric.” And, yes, orange does not have a full rhyme; however, the dictionary does provide options of challenge and scavenge and the eye rhyme of range. Additionally, as conlangers are usually those who take joy in language in all its interesting manifestations, the New Oxford Rhyming Dictionary can be fun to simply browse and become spellbound with the sound of a word, no matter how absurd.


Nov 1

Spellbound by Blake Charlton: A Review

Posted on Thursday, November 1, 2012 in Books, Review

Cover of Spellbound by Blake Charlton

I have finally had a chance to read the sequel to Spellwright by Blake Charlton entitled Spellbound. Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Find at a library near you The plot takes place ten years after the events in the first volume, and Nicodemus Weal is on the run. The book introduces a new character, however, and she makes her appearance right from the beginning. The first line of the book, I’ll admit, had me hooked:

Francesca did not realize she had used an indefinite pronoun until it began to kill her patient.

That imaginative wordplay and ingenious (yes, I’ll say it… ingenious) magic system of Charlton’s is back and better than ever:

Francesca used [the runes] in her left forearm to write a few silvery sentences that glowed on her skin. With her right hand, she pulled the spell free. It folded into a short, precise blade.

Spellbound also introduces a new order of magic-users: the hierophants or “wind mages” which use wind and cloth to wield their power. They cast spells slowly (beat by beat of their heart), and Charlton gives an intriguing description of the inner workings of one of their windcatchers:

Inside the windcatcher, hundreds of radial sails were arranged like windmill blades and rotated around a central point. Somehow a hierophant was suspended within the windcatcher. The many sails focused the energy of their rotation into the hierophant’s heart and accelerated its spellwriting. Each augmented heartbeat produced a hundred thousand times more runes that it otherwise would./ This was the hierophantic key to power. Their language was produced only in the heart muscle, was limited to cloth, and melted into a wind when cast. However, they had harnessed nature’s power, transformed the wind into words. From a school of kite-flying hermits on the slopes of Mount Spires, they had grown into the linguistic backbone of a powerful kingdom.

We also get to see much more of kobold culture. The kobolds, with “their midnight skin and blond hair”, can only cast spells in the darkness.

The lycanthropes are a new race of beings, and they prowl the savannah. There is an interesting twist to their role in the story, as well as an unexpected turn of events having to do with the Savannah Walker as well as a ghost that makes a debut.

Although the plot can get overly complicated sometimes, Charlton does a good job of pulling the reader along. His magic system, though, is what I most enjoyed from these two books (and expect from the promised third volume, Spellbreaker). With sentences like “An unseen wartext blasted the ghost’s right arm into a cloud of golden text”, how can anyone who loves language and how it works not be intrigued with making invisible words tangible and full of power.

In closing, I had the great good fortune to see Blake Charlton give a talk at the American Library Association Annual Conference last summer in Anaheim, CA. He was extremely entertaining but also poignant at times talking about growing up with dyslexia and “riding the short bus.” He would go on to medical school and prove everyone wrong that thought he wouldn’t amount to much. I also had the chance later that same day to talk briefly to him at his book signing, tell him I was shocked when he replied to a tweet, and he mentioned that he most enjoyed writing Francesca’s character in the Spellbound novel. Now that I’ve read it, I can see why and his enjoyment shines through the prose.

Looking forward to reading Spellbreaker!

May 7

Spellwright: A Conlanger’s Review

Posted on Monday, May 7, 2012 in Books, Review

I just finished Spellwright by Blake Charlton (Tor, 2010) Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Find at a library near you. The story follows the adventures of Nicodemus Weal, a “spellwright” who can’t spell. The most fascinating thing about the world that Blake Charlton has created is his novel system of magic where spells are formed within one’s body or peeled from the pages of a book. The master wizard, Agwu Shannon, is a great well-rounded character and could probably have sustained a book of his own. There are lots of other secondary characters and intriguing plots. But, since this is a conlanging blog, let’s see how Charlton handles language.

The first thing to know about language in the world of Nicodemus Weal is that language is Power…literally. The magical languages include Common, Numinous, Magnus, Wrixlan, Pithan, and the all-mighty Language Prime. One could think of these magical languages almost as computer code or prose. One who knows one of these languages can form the sentences, phrases, and paragraphs within their bodies and construct wonder-working spells. But be careful of misspellings! They can kill you. That is Nicodemus’ problem. He is a cacographer or one who is magically dyslexic, inadvertently misspelling even the simplest of spells.

To followup on the idea of writing instructions out of magical languages: In one section, a “bookworm” (a monstrous creature that eats magical texts or “malicious language that invades manuscripts. They eat all the prose and use it to make copies of themselves”) is caught and its text is parsed to figure out where it was supposed to return (i.e., it’s been programmed and its captors are going to re-program it). The book even describes “textual intelligence” as a required string of instructions: “if this happens, then do that; if that does not happen, then do this…”

The way Charlton described the magical languages is very evocative:

  • “A sudden, golden jet of Numinous prose exploded…
  • “…a bookshelf burst into a molten ball of silvery Magnus.”
  • and maybe the best: After a struggle, someone’s face is “crushed by blunt words”

And since these languages all have writing systems to go with them, this could be a hey-day for some inventive con-scripter!

Humans are the primary beings in this world, but there are a Chthonic non-human people who dwelt in the land prior to humans’ arrival. We get one word of their language: tulki = masculine form of “interpreter”.

Charlton also has some fun with the word ghostwriting which is the spell a spellwright can use to exist after death.

Finally, we get the name of a few spells: madide, latere, sceaduganga. The last one, as I read, triggered some sort of Old English ancestral memory or something. So, I set off to check my available online Old English dictionaries. Sure enough, sceadu-genga occurs in Line 703 of Beowulf: Cóm on wanre niht / scríðan sceadugenga “In the colourless night, came / slinking the shadow-wanderer. (Click here for a good online Beowulf in Old and Modern English). The spell does indeed allow one to walk in the shadows or, in other words, to become invisible.

So, Spellwright is worth the read. A fascinating magical system, playful use of language, and interesting characters. It does drag a bit in spots being a little overly-reliant on exposition, but the action and overall story make up for these shortcomings. In fact, I thought (after reading it) maybe we should refer to ourselves as langwrights instead of conlangers. Just an idea.

Nov 25

Maphead: A Mini-Review

Posted on Friday, November 25, 2011 in Books, Review

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Find at a library near you by Ken Jennings is a very enjoyable read that might get you to take a second look at maps.

For conlangers and conworlders, there is one entire chapter (“Legend”) that deals with imaginary worlds, from Austin Tappan Wright‘s Islandia to the works of Brandon Sanderson (a college friend of Jennings). Maphead is written in a friendly, very-accessible tone and looks at everything geographical from GPS games (like Geocaching) to discussions of Jorge Luis Borges’ short story “On Exactitude in Science” and its relation to Google Earth.

Some may recognize Ken Jennings from his record-breaking 2004 performance on the TV game show Jeopardy as well as his previous book, Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. Maphead is a fascinating, humorous, down-to-earth (pun intended) book and should be on the reading list for all those with even a passing interest in cartography and geography.

Nov 19

Shapes for Sounds (and an upcoming review)

Posted on Saturday, November 19, 2011 in Books, Review

Howdy, loyal readers! (We need an English dual plural for that word “readers” in that sentence.) It’s been some time since I updated the blog and The Conlanger’s Library. Our hosting service changed the access method for the Library, and I haven’t had the time to explore the new method (Thanks for the suggestions though, David!) of updating the pages. I’m going to do it, especially since we can include the links to Amazon now (again). I’ll get around to it. Promise.

In the meantime, I do have a new book to share. Also, on the books front, be sure to check out the Fiat Lingua online journal in December for my extensive review of the new book from Oxford University Press, From Elvish to Klingon.

The one I’d like to share today is Shapes for Sounds (cowhouse) Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Find at a library near you by Timothy Donaldson. Donaldson is obviously a student of Edward Tufte‘s work and Shapes for Sounds is an exquisite piece of work because of it. The book traces the development of every letter of the Roman alphabet in beautiful charts, one for each letter. There are also extensive textual parts to the book explaining the differences among the various historical fonts like carolingian, uncial, insular, blackletter, etc., etc., etc. Irish ogham even makes an appearance! The (cowhouse) in the title comes from the original names of the first two letters: aleph “cow” and beth “house”. For conlangers, Shapes for Sounds is full of inspiration for con-scripts as well as an enjoyable book to peruse just for the graphics.

There are several reviews online for Shapes for Sounds including this one and this one that have some great images from inside it. So check for it at your local library or local bookstore. It’s well worth the hunt.

(Added 11/25/2011) P.S. Donaldson’s book has one section directly relevant to conlangers and con-scripters. He has created three “conjectural” alphabets (Appendices 26, 27, and 28), actually three alternative miniscule (i.e., lower-case letters), based on three different majuscules (i.e., upper-case) of existing typefaces. The development of each of these alternative miniscules is included in each letter’s individual chart. They’re a very intriguing alternative view of what the Roman miniscules could have been like.

Aug 7

Some Recent Books…

Posted on Sunday, August 7, 2011 in Books, Conlanging, Library Additions, Review

Okay, not recent in the sense of recently published but recent in the sense of “I just recently checked them out of my local library.” I thought I’d get them on the record with some links and brief reviews:

  • Writing Systems: A Linguistic Approach by Henry Rogers (2005) Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Find at a library near you
  • Case (2nd ed., Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics) by Barry J. Blake (2001) Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Find at a library near you
  • English Verb Classes and Alternations: A Preliminary Investigation by Beth Levin (1993) Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Find at a library near you

The icons link to places you can either purchase the books Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore or look for them at your local library through WorldCat Find at a library near you. These icons have also begun to be incorporated into the entries in The Conlanger’s Library as well.

Writing Systems (part of the Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics series) covers a wide range of ancient and modern scripts and should serve as a good source of inspiration for conlangers developing “native” writing systems for their conlangs. While not exhaustive in its coverage, it does provide enough detail on the scripts to give the aspiring con-scripter the ability either to work directly from the information from the book or to begin to dig deeper on the Internet or databases for additional in-depth details on a writing system of interest. Personally, I really liked Rogers’ information in the sections on “Cuneiform”, “Semitic”, “Indian Abugida and Other Asian Writing”, and “Other Writing Systems”.

Blake’s Case is typical of the Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics (e.g., cover, layout, etc.). The abundant interlinear translations provide excellent examples of each topic covered. Lots of good inspiration for going beyond the “usual” case systems. The “Language Index” references well over 150 languages used as illustrative examples, from Abaza to Zoque.

Levin’s English Verb Classes has been recommended by none other than David J. Peterson at LCC4. The book is a tour-de-force of (no surprise) English verb classes and their alternations. As David suggested, this is a great source for developing a con-vocabulary.

None of these are cheap. If you can’t afford adding them to your personal conlanging bookshelf, they are well worth checking out at your local (public or academic) library. If they don’t have them on the shelf, don’t forget to request them through the interlibrary loan service. Most libraries will borrow items for you from outside the local area.

Enjoy! And happy conlanging!

(P.S. I almost forgot to add that Sylvia Sotomayor was instrumental in helping me get those icons incorporated into the Library. She did coding and was exceptionally patient in guiding me through the updates needed. lelāñ, Sylvia!)

Jul 10

The Half-Made World

Posted on Sunday, July 10, 2011 in Books, Review

I recently finished a novel by Felix Gilman entitled The Half-Made World. It features an extremely well-constructed world with just enough ambiguity to add some mystery to the whole thing. The setting is an interesting combination of Old West meets Steampunk, we are presented with an on-going conflict between the forces of the Gun and the Line. Those two monosyllabic words are invested with deeper meaning as the story progresses.

But this being a conlanging blog, let me discuss the use of language in Gilman’s work. To provide some background, the Gun are spirits that inhabit weapons which give their bearers powers to heal themselves of wounds but also to be even better at raining down death on others. Of course this power comes at a cost, most prominently in the Gun being able go use the Goad on its servants. The Line are also powerful spirits inhabiting machinery and industry. They are manifest, not as weapons but might sprawling Engines that crisscross the landscape pulling more and more land under their influence.

As you might guess from that last paragraph, Gilman makes good use of capitalization: the Gun, the Line, the Goad, the Engines. The voice of the Gun, heard inside one of the main character’s heads is “like metal scraping, like powder sparking, like steel chambers falling heavily into place.” The Song of the Line is like the hum of machinery or the throbbing of an engine.

There is some conlangery at work in the novel, albeit at a very rudimentary level in connection with the mysterious Hillfolk. When the hospital director speaks about the Hillfolk, we get an inkling of their phonology: “He barked, ‘Ek-Ek-Kor! Kek-Rek-Gok!’…Their names, insofar as it is meaningful to name them, were Kek-Kek, Kur-Kur, Kona-Kona.” When Creedmoor calls out to the Hillfolk, we get a list of other languages existing in the half-made world: “He spoke again, in a different language, guttural and choking; and again, in a deeper and harsher tongue that Liv recognized as Dhravian, and he boomed out the words yet again in the nasal Kees-tongue.” We also discover that the female spirit’s names Ku Koyrik which looks like it means “hound of the border”. She was the wife of Kan-Kuk, the Hillfolk companion of the General.

In the end, not a lot of conlanging in The Half-Made World, but the I found the novel a page-turner and well worth the read. There’s a sequel in the works, and I’m very curious to continue to discover what the Gun and the Line have in store.

May 1

The Stone Dance of the Chameleon

Posted on Sunday, May 1, 2011 in Books, Review, World-building

Opening lines of the Song of the Earth

I’ve mentioned Pinto’s trilogy previously on this blog but felt it was appropriate to revisit since I’ve now finished the third volume, The Third God.

First of all, check out the front cover of The Third God at Pinto’s website. Great artwork! In fact, someone I showed the book to even said, “I want to read it just from that!” Those huimur with their flame-pipes a-blazing look very cool. In fact, Pinto has a section on his site devoted to some concept art by Jim Burns who painted the covers for the most recent editions of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon trilogy.

As a world-builder, Pinto has created a complex, fully-developed world. The level of detail is absolutely stunning and can be glimpsed throughout his work. His website gives some glimpse into the background he created in which to situate his characters and is well worth exploring. Here’s a link to the Sitemap of the Stone Dance material. I would easily put Pinto up there in the pantheon of world-builders. He’s not Tolkien, but he’s provided a world almost as detailed as Middle-earth.

Not that I’d want to visit Pinto’s world. Middle-earth would be an interesting place to visit, and one (okay, I) could fantasize about rummaging through the archives of Minas Tirith or Rivendell, taking metallurgy classes from the Dwarves in the Glittering Caves or the restored Khazad-dum, or lifting a pint in the Prancing Pony or The Green Dragon.

Visiting The Three Lands (as the Masters call their world in Pinto’s work) on the other hand would not, in all likelihood be a pleasant experience. Astonishing, awe-inspiring, and intriguing; but also harsh, brutal, and (in all likelihood) fatal. One false move or a glimpse of an unmasked Master and – boom – you’re dead. Hanging out with the Ochre or one of the other Earthsky tribes – boom – you’re conscripted into the legions or part of the flesh-tithe. Enslaved within Osrakum – boom – chances are your eyes are gouged out and replaced by precious stones. Hmm, given those choices, I’ll stick with Gaffer Gamgee at The Ivy Bush, even with the lush detail of The Three Lands.

You may have noticed I haven’t much mentioned the plot and characters of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon. Let me say that, as a novelist, Pinto is a first-class world-builder. He’s obviously in love with and proud of his creation (and for good reason). However, we are repeatedly encouraged to gaze in wonder at the details of his world within the story. While his characters are interesting and his plot is wide-ranging; there seemed to be a number of themes that seemed to be repeated throughout. A couple plot twists were never explained (at least to my satisfaction). I found myself (unfortunately) skipping entire paragraphs near the end of The Third God to keep up with the story and find out what happens to Carnie, Osidian, Poppy, Fern, and the rest of the cast. I’m still not sure about the ending, but I won’t give it away for those who may have not read the trilogy.

I recommend Pinto’s trilogy highly with the caveat that the plot of the books themselves take some slogging through at times. That being said, The Three Lands is an absolutely amazing location and well worth exploring. I was just hoping for some Appendices. Pinto’s website obviously just provides a tantalizing glimpse of the details of the world of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon.