Nerds in the World

A Geek Abroad

Mae Govannen, mellyn nin!

You may be wondering where I’ve been for the last month. For once, the answer isn’t “in my house, being lazy and watching copious amounts of TV.” No, this time the answer is much more exciting. I was touring the UK and Ireland on a three-and-a-half-week solo trip. I’d never been to those particular islands before, unbelievably, so it was a wonderful experience. And a nerdy one. Because most of the places I went out of my way to see were somehow related to my favourite books, movies, TV programmes, etc. And if I learned anything from this trip, it’s that the UK is a fabulous place to be a nerd.

Here are some of the geeky highlights of my adventure:

Platform 9 3/4 in King's Cross Station (which looks nothing like it did in the movie, by the way).

Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross Station (which looks nothing like it did in the movie, by the way).

The modern London home of a certain famous detective. It's not on Baker Street. I found it completely by accident.

The modern London home of a certain famous detective. It’s not on Baker Street. I found it completely by accident.

And here he is on actual Baker Street.

And here he is on actual Baker Street.

The Globe in its glory.

The Globe in its glory. (Albeit a bit blurry.)

Any other Pink Floyd geeks out there? This is the building that was on the cover of Animals!

Any other Pink Floyd geeks out there? This is the building that was on the cover of Animals!

This is the first floor of the Bodleian Library, the most beautiful building I have ever set foot in. Also known as the room where McGonagall taught dancing in Goblet of Fire.

This is the first floor of the Bodleian Library, the most beautiful building I have ever set foot in. Also known as the room where McGonagall taught dancing in Goblet of Fire.

It's also the Hospital Wing.

It’s also the Hospital Wing. And the upper floor is the Hogwarts Library, but I wasn’t allowed to take pictures there.

The Eagle and Child! Home of the Inklings! SQUEEEEE!!

The Eagle and Child! Home of the Inklings! SQUEEEEE!!

The town of Oxford is, fittingly, home to the hugest bookstore I've ever seen - Blackwell's.

The town of Oxford is, fittingly, home to the hugest bookstore I’ve ever seen – Blackwell’s.

This is the house where Tolkien wrote The Hobbit!

This is the house where Tolkien wrote The Hobbit!

By the way, no words, or pictures, could even begin to capture the utter awesomeness that is Oxford. Even if you’re not as huge a fan of Tolkien and Lewis as I am. It’s like everything good and beautiful about the last thousand years of Western history concentrated into a few square miles of marble and forests. Seriously, if you ever find yourself in England, don’t leave without seeing Oxford.

This is the first thing I saw after getting off the train in Edinburgh. Scottish stormtroopers, it turns out, are friendlier than the usual kind.

This is the first thing I saw after getting off the train in Edinburgh. Scottish stormtroopers, it turns out, are friendlier than the usual kind.

This is the boarding school in Edinburgh that inspired Hogwarts.

This is the boarding school in Edinburgh that inspired Hogwarts.

And this is the grave that inspired the name all wizards fear to speak.

And this is the grave that inspired the name all wizards fear to speak.

And finally, this is the cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book!

And finally, this is the cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book!

This is the view from the top of the Sir Walter Scott monument, the tallest memorial ever built to honour a writer.

This is the view from the top of the Sir Walter Scott monument, the tallest memorial ever built to honour a writer. (And believe me, it was a chore climbing up there.)

Trinity College Library in Dublin! I'm pretty sure this is what Heaven looks like. (It's also what the Jedi library looks like, but that's only in the prequels, so no one cares.)

Trinity College Library in Dublin! I’m pretty sure this is what Heaven looks like. (It’s also what the Jedi library looks like, but that’s only in the prequels, so no one cares.)

Here's Oscar Wilde in his native city, looking appropriately drunk.

Here’s Oscar Wilde in his native city, looking appropriately drunk.

And here's my favourite Dublin poet, WB Yeats, looking unexpectedly attractive.

And here’s my favourite Dublin poet, WB Yeats, looking unexpectedly attractive.

Yup. I went there. And it was a truly amazing experience. I think I made a pretty good companion.

Yup. I went there. And it was a truly amazing experience. I think I made a pretty good companion.

You may recognize this restaurant from "The Impossible Astronaut." it's called Eddie's American Diner, and their burgers are good (though the milkshakes are rubbish).

You may recognize this restaurant from “The Impossible Astronaut.” It’s called Eddie’s American Diner, and their burgers are good, but the malts are rubbish.

This street has stood in for several London streets, including the one where the evil Santa robots attacked.

This street has stood in for several London streets, particularly the one where the evil Santa robots attacked in “The Christmas Invasion.”

Actually, pretty much every part of Cardiff has appeared on Doctor Who at some point. This is the shop where Rose met the Doctor (right before it blew up).

Actually, pretty much every part of Cardiff has appeared on Doctor Who at some point. This is the shop where Rose met the Doctor (right before it blew up).

And to cap off my trip, I went and saw my first musical on Broadway in NYC. It was The Phantom of the Opera, of course.

And to cap off my trip, I went and saw my first musical on Broadway in NYC. It was The Phantom of the Opera, of course.

Long story short, I shamelessly indulged my inner geek for a whole month, and it was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I highly recommend it as a cure for dullness and everyday American reality. But now I’m excited to get back to inflicting my geeky thoughts on you lot again! Stay tuned!

Namarie,
Aldy

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Why J.R.R. Tolkien Is Cool

Well, our Lord of the Rings month is just about over. Sad day.

I thought I’d leave you with a few reasons to love J.R.R. Tolkien himself, besides the fact that he wrote the best fantasy novel of all time. Most of this comes from a biography called Tolkien, by Humphrey Carpenter, which is well worth reading if you want to know more about the Godfather of Nerds. Here’s a start:

1) He was a romantic.

One of the most common criticisms of Tolkien’s work is that he doesn’t write enough about women. Some have even gone so far as to say he was a misogynist. To those people, I say this: Tolkien claimed to have based his character Luthien on his wife, Edith. If you’ve read The Silmarillion, you know that Luthien is no Disney princess. She used her own personal wolf monster to defeat Sauron in battle (yes, THE Sauron), saved her mortal lover from Morgoth, and helped to invade the most evil place in Middle Earth and recapture one of the Silmarils. Plus, she can turn into a bat, which is cool. Now, it’s true that Edith Tolkien was never a big part of her husband’s public life, and she certainly wasn’t a great scholar like he was, but that has to tell you something about their relationship.
Plus, the facts about his romance with Edith are almost the stuff of fairytales. He fell in love with Edith as a teenager, while living with a strict priest named Father Francis after his mother died. Father Francis disapproved of their relationship (Edith was Protestant), and finally forbade Tolkien to meet or write to her until he was 21. So Tolkien waited for three years, never seeing another girl, and then immediately sought Edith out and proposed. She said yes, and they stayed together the rest of their lives. And guess what’s written on their shared tombstone now? “Beren” (under Tolkien’s name) and “Luthien.” Can I get an awwwww?

2) He was a really cool professor.

There’s a reason why I call Tolkien the Godfather of Nerds. He used to start out his classes on Anglo-Saxon languages at Oxford by giving a dramatic reading of Beowulf in the original language, and he would sometimes even come to school events dressed like a Viking. According to Humphrey Carpenter, his lectures often rambled, but that was because he was so excited about what he was teaching he couldn’t stick to an outline. Not surprisingly, he was very popular with students. I wish with all my heart I could have heard a Tolkien lecture. And I don’t know anything about philology or Anglo-Saxon.

3) He was a soldier.

Tolkien knew what he was talking about when he described battle. Like most men of his generation, he fought in the trenches of World War I, which makes one think his vivid descriptions of the horror of Mordor may not have been entirely imaginary. Most of his friends also died in the war, which might explain the tone of tragedy and grief which hangs over practically everything he wrote. Fortunately for the world in general, he contracted “trench fever” and escaped the fighting after a few months because he was too sick to go back.

4) He was a good friend of C.S. Lewis.

It blows my mind that the two greatest speculative fiction writers of all time (in my opinion) not only lived and worked during the same period and went to the same colleges, but were best friends. Tolkien was even instrumental in Lewis’s conversion to Christianity–which means that without Tolkien, we wouldn’t have had Narnia, and where would the world of children’s fantasy be now? It’s true that their friendship eventually cooled, and Tolkien didn’t think very highly of Lewis’s fiction, especially Narnia. But Lewis was a big fan of everything Tolkien wrote. He even based the main character of his Space Trilogy on Tolkien. Part of the fun of reading That Hideous Strength is in finding all the Middle Earth references.

4) He was a hobbit.

He smoked a pipe a lot. He was very fond of ale and mushrooms. He loved trees and the countryside, and hated the things of “metal and wheels” that the industrialization of England brought into his life after World War I. (Oddly enough, he was also a reckless driver when he finally did get a car.) He even said it himself: “I am, in fact, a hobbit.” Basically, everything you love about hobbits was true of Tolkien as well. I think they even based Bilbo’s costumes in the movie off his creator’s favourite outfits.

See?

Oh, and his initials stand for John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. That one was free. 🙂

Tomorrow we turn to a fandom Tolkien would probably not approve of, as it focuses heavily on “metal and wheels.” But not always in a good way…

At any rate, it’s always a good time to read The Lord of the Rings, even in October. I read it almost constantly. It’s just the thing for the imagination and sanity.

Namarie,
Aldy

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Happy Birthday, Bilbo (& Frodo)!

Well, it’s a little late to make September Lord of the Rings month, but I can’t let this day go by without paying tribute to the greatest of all fantasy writers, and his two heroes who share a birthday on September 22.
Today is known as “Hobbit Day” among Tolkien enthusiasts. It’s the anniversary of the day Bilbo Baggins turned 111 and vanished from the Shire, setting his nephew Frodo on a path to the most epic quest that has graced the printed page since Beowulf. I have a little plastic replica of the One Ring, which I’ve worn every year on this day since I first read The Lord of the Rings at age 10. Today I’ll also be celebrating by baking scones and having a little beer (no celebration of hobbits is complete without food). For more ambitious types, here’s a link to some party ideas for today: http://www.geeksofdoom.com/2012/09/21/how-to-throw-a-hobbit-day-party

And I’ll leave you with Bilbo’s lovely birthday speech from The Fellowship of the Ring:
“My dear People…My dear Bagginses and Boffins, and my dear Tooks and Brandybucks, and Grubbs, and Chubbs, and Burrowses, and Hornblowers, and Bolgers, Bracegirdles, Goodbodies, Brockhouses, and Proudfoots [Proudfeet!]. Also my good Sackville-Bagginses that I welcome back at last to Bag End. Today is my one hundred and eleventh birthday: I am eleventy-one today!
I hope you are all enjoying yourselves as much as I am. I shall not keep you long. I have called you all together for a Purpose. Indeed, for Three Purposes! First of all, to tell you that I am immensely fond of you all, and that eleventy-one years is far too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable hobbits. I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
Secondly, to celebrate my birthday. I should say: OUR birthday. For it is, of course, also the birthday of my heir and nephew, Frodo. He comes of age and into his inheritance today. Together we score one hundred and forty-four. Your numbers were chosen to fit this remarkable total: One Gross, if I may use the expression.
It is also, if I may be allowed to refer to ancient history, the anniversary of my arrival by barrel at Esgaroth on the Long Lake; though the fact that it was my birthday slipped my memory on that occasion. I was only fifty-one then, and birthdays did not seem so important. The banquet was very splendid, however, though I had a bad cold at the time, I remember, and could only say ‘thag you very buch’. I now repeat it more correctly: Thank you very much for coming to my little party.
Thirdly and finally, I wish to make an ANNOUNCEMENT. I regret to announce that–though, as I said, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to spend among you–this is the END. I am going. I am leaving NOW. GOOD-BYE!”

Have a splendid day, everyone! Namarie!

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