The Lord of the Rings

table, teapot, plates, candle

Savouring the Plot: Food In Fiction

People in movies hardly ever eat. Drink, yes, eat, no. Even in a movie that’s all about food, like Babette’s Feast. Consider — it’s pretty hard to look gorgeous, sexy, or heroic while chomping on something, or with crumbs clinging to your perfectly plumped lips. Never mind the horror of a smile revealing a chewed up glob stuck to a tooth.

But in books, this doesn’t matter. Readers edit their own mind-movies, and most enjoy a meal or snack now and then.

Remember The Hobbit? Bilbo Baggins is always thinking about food, even when dealing with trolls and giant spiders. Readers relate to that, for who hasn’t suffered from hunger pangs? And when those pangs are relieved (in Beorn’s house, for example) the reader shares vicariously in the feast. Come to think of it, Tolkien created many such occasions. Both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are full of food-related scenes, from Bilbo’s birthday party at the beginning to Sam’s rabbit stew near the end.

My fictitious characters eat a lot. Or rather, many plot-propelling conversations in my novels take place at meals — dinners, lunches, impromptu snacks or afternoon teas.

But is the writer obligated to supply their characters with three squares a day, plus snacks, from page one to “The End?” In my current WIP, mealtimes are interfering with the meat of the plot. I’m getting tired of figuring out what to cook up for these folks in Luxor, Egypt, in 1962 — in a cafe, in a hotel restaurant, in the “dig house” of an archaeological team. What about a bag lunch for the trip to the mysterious wadi? Give me a break! I’ll furnish enough food for plausibility, but don’t intend to get bogged down in irrelevant culinary details.

Now I’m (finally) at the stage where dire discoveries and amazing revelations are more important than the next meal. Physiology being what it is, though, my young, healthy protagonist will get hungry even while trying to escape the clutches of the villain, and figuring out the Secret.

Well, if she survives, she might get a cup of coffee and something sweet.



A Writerly Miscellany

The title of this post should be a tip-off that I’m hard up for a topic this week. One reason for this is because I’ve been spending a lot of time lately formatting another of my novels for upload to Smashwords. Volume Two of Islands of the Gulf will be available by the end of this week.

I’ve also been dipping into Merchants of Culture (updated second edition) by John B. Thompson, an analysis of the publishing business in the 21st century. I admit that I skipped right to the final two chapters, in which Mr. Thompson offers his own opinions on a number of issues. Most interesting to me is his statement that many writers write for other writers; that is the group whose opinion matters most to them. To quote: “The community of writers is a world apart; it intersects with the publishing world but that intersection is fraught with tension that stems from the fact that the interests of writers don’t always coincide with the interests of agents and editors.” To publishers, the primary measure of an author’s worth is his or her sales figures, which must be ever-growing in order to sustain the author-publisher relationship. Authors are quoted as saying that they feel trapped by their sales numbers. On the plus side, Thompson says that books, whether print or electronic, will always be with us, because a desire for story seems to be inherent in the human race. He speculates that there will be more small publishers as the major ones break under the strain of trying to sustain unsustainable growth.

Finally, I’ve been rereading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings for maybe the twentieth time. Every year or two I get the urge to take that long journey with Frodo and the others once again. It’s one of my best-loved books, but that has not stopped me from noticing a number of things that I’m sure have been pointed out by critical readers:

1. There are very few “grey” characters in this story. The evil guys are blackly evil and most of the good guys stay pure without a great deal of effort.

2. There is absolutely no sex in this story (which is absolutely OK with me), and very few female characters, one of whom (Shelob the spider) is among the most horrible.

3. The only explanation for the standard of living in the two elf-countries (Rivendell and Lorien) is the magic of the rings (which is OK, especially as that magic passes away after the One Ring is destroyed).

4. No one gives the wretched Gollum any credit for the destruction of the Ring, or talks about the fact that Frodo fails on the very brink of Doom, although he does admit it to Sam immediately after.

And finally…

5. The Eagles. In the battle before the gates of Mordor, Gandalf calls upon the Eagles to look for Frodo and Sam on Mount Doom. So the big question is: why doesn’t he think of asking an eagle to carry Frodo and the Ring to Mt. Doom right at the start, thus saving a lot of time and a torturous, risky journey? Especially since Gandalf himself is twice rescued by one of the big birds — from the tower of Orthanc when he is made prisoner by Saruman, and from the peak of Zirak-Zigil after his struggle with the Balrog. The first of these rescues takes place before the Council of Elrond. Such a choice would, of course, short circuit the whole story, and I explain it to myself in terms of sacrifice and suffering being necessary to bring about the great transformation, but a fussy critic inside of me feels that Tolkien should have dealt with this angle in some way. For example, someone should make the suggestion during the Council of Elrond so that it could be refuted for a reason that makes sense within the parameters of Tolkien’s world.

But despite these niggles, I will very likely pick up this book once again in a couple of years. Which goes to confirm my long-held opinion that there is no objective, rational standard by which writing is judged.

Onward! I will publish the second volume of my trilogy in four volumes a few days from now!