This is a terrific book on topic rarely covered in WW2 histories. It uses the stories of three men–two American and one British–as a lens to examine desertion and a host of related topics: battle fatigue, military justice, battlefield psychology, and leadership. It also highlights how truly terrible the American system was for combat infantrymen and their replacements. Basically, the Americans put the burden of the fighting on a relatively small number of divisions. Whereas other counties (and America in other wars) would rotate units off the front line to recuperate and incorporate replacements, the US army had a system that put replacement soldiers into a general pool and then assigned them to units on an ad hoc basis while the units were still in combat. Instead of going into battle with a group of men they knew and had trained with, the replacements were dumped into units where they knew no one. Many were killed within days of arriving, sometimes before their new officers even learned their names. It is no surprise that veterans reached a breaking point after too many consecutive days in combat, and that replacements deserted after being cast adrift with no support network. If you are interested in WW2 at all, I totally recommend The Deserters.
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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Review
I took Nicole and Kate to see The Hobbit last night. I had been looking forward to it for a long time, and had attempted to learn as little as possible about the production beforehand. Only when we saw Skyfall last month did I even see a trailer. I wanted to go in fresh without preconceptions. I also made sure to re-read the novel beforehand.
My verdict: it was…good. I wish it had been great though.
Spoilers for Book and Movie Ahead!
I should say right away that I do understand the problems faced by Jackson and his writers. The Hobbit is very different in tone than the Lord of the Rings. It was a children’s book after all. If they did The Hobbit as written, it would have been a lot more light-hearted and well, goofy than the previous three films. Tolkien was a serious world builder though, and the story of The Hobbit has an important place in the history of the Third Age of Middle Earth. What Jackson and crew were trying to do was put the story in its proper context by bringing in a lot of material from Tolkien’s other writings. Obviously, they want these three new movies to serve as a lead-in to the original three to form a larger epic. I don’t have a problem with this approach. In fact, as a Tolkien nerd, I applaud it but it did have some consequences in the way they changed things.
As you watch The Hobbit, it’s hard not to notice the way the film is similar to Fellowship of the Ring. Thorin is in the Aragorn role. The actor they picked and the hairstyle they gave him reinforce the point; he looks like mini-Strider. In the Fellowship, Jackson and his writers created a new villain specifically for the film: Lurtz, the Uruk-Hai leader. His purpose was to give the climax of that movie a villain that could be overcome. The audience could thus have a little satisfaction at the end of the movie, even though the Fellowship was broken and the heroes’ fates uncertain.
In The Hobbit, they use Azog in this role. He is not in the novel, and for very good reason: he’s dead. Azog, you see, was the King of Moria and he did lead the orcs against the dwarves in the Battle of Dimrill Dale as depicted in the film. However, Thorin’s cousin, Dain Ironfoot, beheaded Azog in that battle. It’s Azog’s son Bolg who appears in the novel and leads the orc forces in the Battle of Five armies.
I find it strange that in order to give the broader backstory of The Hobbit, Jackson changed the story simply so he could have his Lurtz for the movie. Lurtz himself was a made up character and few people minded because adding another Uruk war leader didn’t seem like a stretch. It would have been wiser to follow that lead here than muck things up so badly with the lore. Bolg is King of Moria in the novel. Will he just be shoved aside by Azog in the next movie? If not, why is he king when his father still lives? And why let Thorin steal Dain’s thunder when he’s likely to be an important character in the next two movies?
We see more echoes of Fellowship in the Rivendell sequence. In the novel here’s what happens there. Thorin’s company arrives and the elves feed them and their ponies. Elrond identifies the swords from the troll lair and reads the moon runes on the map. The elves give them fresh provisions and wish them farewell and good luck on their quest. That’s all. In the movie, however, there’s a whole subplot about how Thorin doesn’t want to go there and doesn’t trust the elves. Elrond doesn’t think their quest is a good idea, just as he had doubts about Aragorn in Fellowship. I did not mind the impromptu meeting of the White Council (as this helps set up the action in Dol Guldur that’s presumably happening in movie three), but changing the original story again to echo Fellowship seemed unnecessary.
My other major problem with the movie the inclusion of many scenes of big things crashing into other big things while people leap like gazelles through the wreckage. This was the sort of stuff that made King Kong tedious. He takes one paragraph from the book in which stone giants are throwing rocks at each other as a game and turns it into a 10 minutes action scene with mountain peaks swaying this way and that. Then it’s “crazy bridges” in Goblin-town, whereas in the book Gandalf simply slays the Great Goblin and all his minions freak the hell out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good fight scene and some of the bits were cool, but those sorts of scenes are to Peter Jackson what white doves are to John Woo.
All my annoyances came together in the climactic battle. The scene that takes place in a forest in the novel is re-positioned on a crag so now trees can crash into each other until one (populated, of course, by all the protagonists who have just leaped from tree to tree!) hangs over the edge. Azog the already dead arrives to kill Thorin and then we don’t even get the satisfaction of having the mini-villain killed. The whole climax was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. At least there were giant eagles though.
I suppose this all makes it sound like I hated the film but I didn’t. Much of it was enjoyable and if you are not a lifelong Tolkien nerd like me, you won’t really give a shit whether it’s Azog or Bolg in the Battle of Five Armies. I will say I thought the riddle sequence with Bilbo and Gollum was terrific. And man, Gollum technology has advanced a lot in 10 years. I must note though that Jackson and his writers do in fact make Bilbo a thief. In the novel, he finds the ring by accident while stumbling around in the dark. In the movie, he sees Gollum drop it and then picks it up. This actually gives Gollum a moral leg to stand on, which he certainly did not have in the books.
In the end The Hobbit is a good fantasy film, certainly better than the shit we endured in the 80s. I just think the choice, conscious or not, to pattern it on Fellowship of the Ring was a mistake. Now granted, I haven’t seen parts two and three. Seeing the trilogy in its totality may change my mind. Right now, I can’t see why certain things were done to the story but maybe that’ll be made clearer in the next two.
That’s my basic review. Now I’m just going to toss out a few nitpicks that only the hardcore Tolkien fans will have any interest in. You can stop reading now if you want; I won’t be offended!
- From the moment Balin came I screen I thought he looked too old. This is the dwarf who’s going to lead the Moria expedition decades later. In the novel Thorin is actually older than him. You would not guess that in the film.
- Elrond going on an orc hunting expedition? Sorry, but no. That’s the sort of thing his sons Elladan and Elrohir do.
- Glamdring and Orcrist also glow blue blue when orcs are near but did not in the movie.
- Radagast is not described in great detail by Tolkien, so the film’s depiction of him isn’t wrong per se. The wacky factor was amped way up though.
Recent Reading: Ill Met by Moonlight
Ill Met by Moonlight by W. Stanley Moss is an account of how two British officers from the Special Operations Executive and a band of partisans conspired to kidnap a German general on the island of Crete. What’s interesting about this memoir is that Moss, one of the officers involved, actually wrote most of it as a diary during the events themselves. He and his cohort Patrick Leigh Fermor lived on Crete for months and spent many idle days hiding in caves and waiting for developments. During that time Moss recorded events as they unfolded. He added some explanatory text after the war (like what their actual plan was, which he didn’t write down in case the Germans should get hold of his diary), but largely the events are related within days or even hours of their happening.
The bold band succeeds in kidnapping German General Kriepe and then spends three weeks dodging German patrols before getting him off the island and whisking him to Cairo. They manage to do all this without firing a shot. This was possible because they had the support of an angry Cretan populace. Again and again, the band is sheltered, fed, hidden, and assisted in ways great and small by Cretan villagers and shepherds. As a Greek-American, I found the details of the Cretan resistance movement quite interesting (so much so that I just ordered a used copy of Antony Beevor’s Crete: The Battle and the Resistance).
I really enjoyed Ill Met by Moonlight. It is focused on just this one mission, so after reading it I had to look up the main characters and find out what happened to them during and after the war. To my surprise I found a clip of a 1972 Greek television show about the kidnapping. It reunited Patrick Leigh Fermor with many of his partisan comrades and General Kriepe himself! The video is not subtitled but I watched it anyway to see these characters I had read about and see their reactions and body language. I’ll have to have my mom translate it for me some time.
The book was a birthday gift from Will Hindmarch, so thanks, Will!
It wouldn’t be a trip unless I brought home some books and games. I like to travel light these days, so I can carry everything on, but that’s at odds with my love of books. I could easily have found more to buy, but knowing I’d have to hump it all home constrained me. I suppose that’s a good thing. In any case, here’s what I brought back:
The Afghan Wars, 1839-1919 by T.A. Heathcote: Picked this up at the National Army Museum. I’ve read some about Britain’s colonial wars in Afghanistan, but going to that exhibit made me want to know more.
Atomic Highway by Colin Chapman: Traded with Dom from Cubicle 7 for this. It’s a post-apocalyptic RPG I’ve been wanting to check out.
City of Thieves by Ian Livingstone: Ian brought a bunch of signed Fighting Fantasy books to sell in the charity auction. I won this one.
Crusaders of the Amber Coast by by Paolo Guccione: Another Cubicle 7 trade. This is a RPG sourcebook for BRP on running a campaign during the Baltic Crusades. I had not heard of it before, but I’m always interested in gaming supplements that take on history.
Duty and Honour by Neil Gow: And speaking of history, there’s Duty and Honour, a RPG in which you play a British soldier during the Napoleonic Wars. Many years ago I contacted Bernard Cornwell’s agent to try to license the Sharpe’s novels, so it didn’t take much to sell me on this.
Hospitallers, The History of the Order of St. John by Jonathan Riley-Smith: Short history of the Hospitallers I got at the Order of St. John’s museum.
Imperial Armor, Volume 9, The Badab Campaign, Part One: The Forge World 40K books are gorgeous but also spendy. I arranged a trade before Dragonmeet with Andrew Kenrick so I could bring this baby home with me. Back in the 90s I wrote a short story for GW, Into the Maelstrom, about Huron and the Red Corsairs, so I was naturally interested in a book all about the Tyrant of Badab’s famous conflict with the Imperium. Now must wait for volume 2.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess by James Raggi: James was nice enough to give me a copy of his fantasy RPG and a bunch of its adventures. I was already curious about this because it seemed to be a game from the Old School Renaissance that was more than a copy of some iteration of D&D. And it’s a boxed set and everyone knows I love boxed sets.
Marlborough’s Wars, Eyewitness Accounts, 1702-1713 by James Falkner: My other purchase at the National Army Museum: This was tries to get at the lgend of Marlborough through the accounts of people who were there. Looks interesting.
Originally published on LiveJournal on December 3, 2010.