The Account of a Lifetime

February 20, 2013

Those Special Chapters

Good evening scamps!

A discussion over on The Bolthole’s Shoutbox earlier this afternoon had me thinking (and splurging across the discussion with mentions) of my favourite chapters from books I’ve read over the years.

Perhaps not so uniquely, I’ve grown up with a trio of particularly special book series, books which I think speak to much of the cultural Zeitgeist of modernity, to speak floridly (or horridly). Basically fantasy, arguably mainly children’s literature but certainly adored by many.

The three series I refer to are, of course, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, Harry Potter by JK Rowling and the more ancient The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.

Of course, there’s a great many other books out there than the three to which I’m referring (and one of those is so vague in my mind I’m feeling compelled to revisit it – perhaps due to lacklustre performance of its cinema edition!), so I thought I’d ask myself (and anyone reading):

Of all the books you’ve read, which specific chapters have stayed with you, vivid and perhaps lodged into your mind? Which just don’t seem to go away, or are always evoked at even the slightest reminder?

Though I forget the naming and specifics of the bit I’m trying to articulate for His Dark Materials, my mind still feels rather sharp when it comes to the other two. So, without further ado…

Shelob’s Lair & The Choices of Master Samwise

Agonising. Perhaps not so terrifying-scary as it’s made to appear in the film, but the stress and agony of Gollum, the sheer loyalty and bravery of Sam are near overwhelming. Though other scenes and moments in the series are perhaps more enchanting or singularly memorable, I can’t overstate how much I feel this duo of chapters totally and, almost entirely, encapsulates the whole saga.

Monstrous peril, varying ‘human’ strength weakness in the face of temptation, loyalty, humility, bravery. It has everything. To hell with elves and dwarves and wizards, this is the meat of the story, the turning point, the crescendo, the definitive bit. Though it goes on for a fair few chapters afterwards (all that business with the ring, Gondor, the Ride of the Rohirrim, Scouring of the Shire, etc.), the heart of the story is established: Sam really isn’t going to give up – he is the hero, helping prop-up Frodo. Gollum is the villain, but it’s agony and uncontrollable lust, the power the ring has over him that’s undermining the olive branch that Frodo had brought forth.

I’m inclined to go re-read it now.

The Only One He Ever Feared

Despite the build-up of an arguably bloated book, despite the thorough unpleasantness and easily dislikeable attitude affected by/inflicted on Harry through the book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix blasts a second overwhelming shock right on the back of the first.

Bella’s fleeing, Harry’s ‘turning to the Dark Side’ and has already walked right into the trap, Voldemort is triumphant. The Order’s already embroiled in battle against the Death Eaters. Death, vengeance, outrage, disbelief.

And then there he is. The man himself, the oddment and nitwit who’s plagued us through the series so far with his his bright, light, sparkling blue eyes from behind half-moon spectacles!

The statues come to life to protect/limit the bystanders, the duel ensues. Harry’s mental anguish colours the whole thing, us, as readers, have our view largely coloured by the shock of what just went before…

And still there they are: Voldemort and Dumbledore. Wondrous, terrible. It’s childish, in a way, but there’s a certain mark of restraint on Rowling’s part to have held off this long for such a confrontation. Then again, one wonders if it’s too indulgent, too much an allowance of a ‘big bang’, a special finale… the work of the book which builds up to this chapter could be said to undermine it: it necessarily ruins Harry and makes him massively unsympathetic, it necessarily ruins Dumbledore by having him terribly flawed.

Therein, I think, it sets the tone: despite it all, the chapter filled me at least with a sense of outrage despite all the ‘awesome’, that very same outrage that I, as a teenager (which I was, at that very time), already felt and knew too well. Disappointment – in other people, in yourself, in themselves, in the system. That’s only dealt with later in the book, but the chapter itself builds it up, as with the (perhaps more agonising) preceding chapter, Beyond the Veil, builds the emotional investment. Or plays with your investment to increase it, perhaps. (I wonder how tedious/trite it might seem to anyone without investment in the characters – though I fail to see how Dumbledore couldn’t enigmatic* his way into your heart.)

So, right there, it’s like ‘Thunderbirds are go!’ and the Millennium Falcon appearing out of the black: finally! The rescue!

Except it’s only barely a rescue, it’s not triumphant, not really – all the emotional heart is stolen. That little paradox, pretty well known to story tellers, but brilliantly delivered in my humble esteem.

As noted, the other series is the lesser known (and arguably superior!) His Dark Materials – I’m very keen to re-read these, as I have been for well on a decade(?) now. There’s a few other books out there that [i]really[/i] stick in my head, certainly my voracious/unhealthy focus on Black Library and, before that, Star Wars (and before that: Star Trek) books has filled me with plenty of tie-in moments of awesome.

Anything particularly memorable to you, your own cherished aspect of the greater whole? For example, I know** both my dad, mother and sister’s particular favourites from Lord of the Rings are almost certainly The Ride of the Rohirrim, The Grey Havens and The Council of Elrond respectively and, almost certainly with my friends in pub/party discussions that often turn to reading – I usually end up deep in discussion (and deep in cups) with them on their respective favourite aspects.

Hell, plenty of the time’s been spent ardently defending my position in the face of folks rubbish or demolishing my thinking, the fiends. I never saw what was so great about the Foundation trilogy anyway!***

* Yes, enigmatic as a verb. Sue me.
** Some families more routinely talk about ‘serious’ or ‘normal’ things.
*** Then I read them – they’re pretty decent!

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