Tag Archives: Gollum

The Second Book in a Series, or: The Ugly Middle Child

Ahh. There’s nothing like kicking back in a comfy chair with a good series. While I am not a fast reader by any means, you might finish a book in one day and go right on to the second book. When you look at that cover, what are you thinking about? Are you expecting another exciting installment in the adventure? Are you anticipating it will be just as good as the first?

I’ll admit it. Every single time I pick up book two in a series, I have high hopes and expect it to be just as good as, if not better than, the first book. And I should seriously know better by now. Because almost every series I read has a major book two problem, especially trilogies. I’ve taken to calling book two (in any series) The Ugly Middle Child. No offense to all of you middle children out there, I’m sure you’re lovely and probably gorgeous.

Whenever this topic comes up in conversation (which is often, you’d be surprised), I always come back to The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien, book two in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Why? Because it’s a perfect example of a book two done well, at least in my humble opinion.

Why?

*Caution: spoilers ahead! I repeat: spoilers ahead!*

Important Things Happen

Gandalf is reincarnated as Gandalf the White. Ents! Shelob! F*ing Wormtongue! If you weren’t entertained by The Two Towers, then you might want to go back and re-read it. While it does what many book twos do — sets up everything for the end — it also deepens the characters by splitting them up to have individual quests. And boy are those quests cool. Some book twos simply exist to set up book three, and the author forgets to make the journey fun. They also forget to make sure crucial things happen in book two, which will make the climax of book three all the more wonderful.

The Introduction of an Integral Character

Gollum. He was whispered about in the first book and we knew him from The Hobbit, but in book two, we really get to see him. We learn his story and see his suffering. And for many of us, we had no idea what an important part he would play in the end. Now that’s how you set up an integral character.

Facing the Consequences of What Happened in Book One

In The Fellowship of the Ring, Boromir is overcome with the allure of the ring, and Frodo and Sam split off to go to Mordor alone. The consequences of this decision play out in the beginning of book two – Boromir is killed by Lurtz, the Uruk-hai leader. While the movie has Boromir die at the end of the first movie, the consequences of his actions are played out in the second book and in the second movie. When Frodo and Sam come across Faramir, Boromir’s brother, they expect the same ring-lust. However, Faramir must grapple with the truth of his brother’s death and resolve not to be like him. Real consequences and real decisions, which only pave the way to an explosive book three.

Too often, book twos feel slow and sloggy, and only serve the purpose of setting up book three. Let us take Tolkien’s example of what a good book two looks like: one full of action, intrigue, important character building, fun, the introduction of integral characters, and making sure the characters face the consequences of their actions from book one, making them stronger and all the more ready to face their ultimate battles in book three.

What do you think? If you liked The Two Towers, what did you like about it? Why was it successful as a book two? Any more examples of a book two done well? I’d love to read about it!

A Preciously Complex Character

A guest blog by David Heyman.

 

GollumGollum. It had to be him.

When I learned that this month’s theme was memorable characters, Gollum from The Lord of the Rings grabbed my imagination just as surely as if it was the One Ring itself. His was the first name in my head, arriving independent of any thought process or reasoning.

But why Gollum? Initially, even I wasn’t sure.

Sure – he’s a great character, as I’ll discuss below. He’s hardly my Favorite Character from Literature of All Time though. Heck, he’s not even my favorite character from The Lord of the Rings! (That would be Sam, and I have a soft spot for Gimli as well.) To discover why Gollum was my first choice, I ended up on a journey of my own- -and I learned quite a bit.

At the age of 8 or so I was first handed a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring by my grandfather. I was probably too young for the story at that point, but I dove in anyway. I’m pretty confidant I glossed over a lot of the songs and longer meetings, but I was still sufficiently enthralled to check out The Two Towers from the library and continue the story. Along the way, I had been assigning ‘hero’ and ‘villain’ tags to the various characters, taking a particularly strong liking to Frodo, Sam and Strider. There were hints of Gollum in that first book- -whispered mentions of a threat, enough so that I knew he would be a problem for our heroes when he arrived. I was prepared to hate him, the way I hated Sauron and Saruman and all the bad guys.

By the end of The Two Towers though, I found that not only did not hate Gollum, I kind of liked him. I felt sorry for him, I found myself hoping Frodo would find a solution to his problem that didn’t force Gollum (and Smeagol) to lose. This gave me my first real clue as to why Gollum was my go-to character choice. He was my first complex character as well as my first likable villain.

For my pre-adolescent brain, this was a game changer. Gollum was a bridge to more adult stories and motivations. He was the first step on a path that led me out of children’s books and into increasingly complex fantasy stories.

(As an aside, the timing for this could not have been better. I first read Lord of the Rings after I had seen Star Wars, but before Empire Strikes Back came out in theatres. Gollum sufficiently prepared me to accept and relish the more complex character Darth Vader becomes in the second movie.)

Gollum is an antagonist for Frodo, but he cares not a whit for the machinations of the main villains like Sauron and Saruman. In one sense, his motivation is much simpler and easier to understand: he simply wants has precious. Gollum’s love of the Ring to me is heartbreakingly pure: even as it destroys and corrupts him, he wants nothing from life other than to possess it, to look at it and appreciate it. To everyone else in the story the Ring is either a burden or a Tool. It may be part of his essence, but even Saruon needs the Ring in order to accomplish larger goals. Gollum alone seems to value to Ring for itself.

This made him fascinating to me as a new reader encountering this type of character for the first time. Because his motivation was both simple but also independent from the main story, he felt like a much more direct threat to Frodo and Sam. He was unpredictable, murderous and chaotic, not to mention clearly quite mad. Yet he was also sad, pathetic and at times even capable of kindness. Was it all a ruse? Was he really just a slave to the Ring, or was Gollum truly capable of redemption, of becoming Smeagol again? As a reader, Gollum kept me on edge because he was impossible to predict. He served his own agenda, his own master and whenever he was on the page, anything might happen.

In preparing for this blog post, I realized that Gollum has greatly influenced me as both a reader and a writer. I have a strong preference for ‘grey’ characters with complex motivations. I like my villains to be a bit tragic, to have some kernel of good inside them as well as having their actions come from a place of pain rather than greed or lust for power. I adore antagonists who operate outside the main plot, who serve no master other than their own needs. Even on the hero side I like a little dark edge there, some place deep inside where they resemble the villain more than they care to admit.

All of this creates more tension through unpredictability, which leads to experiences I like to read about as well as write.

I realize now all of that started for me with Gollum, once a simpler creature who found a most extraordinary present on his birthday- -a present that would transform him into a character for the ages, and my personal guide into more complex characters.


Dave writes both novels and short stories in the various genres of speculative fiction. His other passions include his family, gaming and reading about mountaineering. Sleep is added to the mix when needed. You can visit him at daveheyman.com

Writing in Color

Black and White Rainbow

My writing started to get good when I learned how to write in color.

As children we are concrete thinkers; we see the world in absolutes, black and white, good and bad, likes and dislikes, right and wrong. As we grow and develop we begin to comprehend abstract thought, such as, just because Jonny does something bad doesn’t necessarily mean he is bad, and just because Sally does something good doesn’t necessarily mean she is good. Abstract thought leads us into a new world of judgment and emotion. As we try to understand our existence and reality, abstract thought helps us wrap our head around those complicated, even contradictory themes life presents.

My early writing portrayed much of this concrete thought. My protagonists were all good, and my antagonists were all bad, right and wrong, loved and hated. I soon discovered that my stories lacked conflict. Oh, there was plenty of opposition between the good guys and the bad guys, but real life conflict isn’t so easily defined and identified. My writing in black and white created predictable plots, boring dialogue, and failed to solicit an emotional response. In short, my writing was forgettable.

As I struggled to understand why, I thought back to all of the stories (written and film) that I remembered from my youth. Stories like “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs and “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury caused my mind to stretch, mainly because there wasn’t a happy ending, a resolution that I could forget. My mind continued to replay the plots, over and over, thinking of alternative actions, alternative endings in search of resolution.

Movies like “Old Yeller” and “Against a Crooked Sky” provoked me the same way. I found myself days, weeks, even months after watching the films, trying to rewrite the plots for better, happier endings. If only the protagonist could go back in time and do it right, then the ending could be different.

A couple of years ago, I attended a workshop where I read a short story I had written. I was complimented for my fine piece of horror. Shocked at the assertion, I argued that my story couldn’t possibly be considered part of that genre. The instructor smiled and said, “You are definitely a horror writer.”

I decided to read some horror to prove her wrong, and sure enough, I am a horror writer. I enjoy reading it, and love to create it.

As a horror writer, I take the reader to an uncomfortable place. Instead of forgettable, happy-ever-after-type endings, my writing allows me to dwell in the horrific, the sad, the hard, the pain, and the unthinkable. Through that experience, I invite the reader to return to the story in search of a better resolution.

Character development is a crucial part of unforgettable writing for it is their choices that often create the dire circumstances in which we find ourselves. Nathan Barra wrote something to the effect that a good character is someone that you’d like to sit down and have a drink with but you’d also like to punch in the face. Great characters like Javert and Gollum won’t fit into good and bad molds, they do good things for the wrong reasons, and bad things for righteous reasons, and do terrible things for terrible reasons. To err is human. I love experiencing such characters and their choices as they create worlds of desperation, loneliness, bitterness, and fear allowing me as the reader to feel, empathize, pity, and relate, all along searching for resolution whether it comes or not.

For a story to truly be unforgettable, it needs to be written in color.