A Few of My Favourite Things, Part I

[image description: a promotional poster for the upcoming amazon original animated series “the legend of vox machina”. above it some text in a black bar reads: “we are pleased to confirm your attendance for the exclusive virtual performance of the legend of vox machina.”]

One of the things I love about blogging is that I get to tell perfect strangers all about the things I love. Imagine trying to do that during a long flight, or sitting in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. The difference is that I don’t have a captive audience. This blog is more like the magazine that’s lying on the coffee table in front of you while you’re sitting there bored. It’s your choice whether to pick it up and start reading or not, so I don’t have to feel guilty about force-feeding you fandom fare.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, and maybe even some of you who haven’t, already know that I love pub food, Tolkien, and D&D. I mean, that’s fairly obvious. You may even already know that I love the D&D actual play Twitch.tv series Critical Role. And, if you’ve read my post from not too long ago in which I mention how much I love animation, you also know that I backed the Kickstarter project The Legend of Vox Machina animated series at the Defender level, and got a bunch of rewards for it, including getting to watch the first three episodes a couple of days before the show actually debuts on Amazon Prime.

But what you might not know is, there are quite a few other things I love that have nothing to do with pub food, Tolkien, writing, or D&D. I just don’t blog about those other things as often because, well, this is literally a blog about pub food, Tolkien, writing, and D&D. So, in the spirit of the holidays we’ve just been (hopefully) celebrating, I thought I’d list a few of the other things I love, with a brief description of what they are and why I love them (and I know the song from The Sound of Music I’m referencing technically isn’t a Christmas song).

But first, check out this trailer for The Legend of Vox Machina. I’m really excited about this!

The Legend of Vox Machina – Trailer (Red Band Trailer) | Prime Video

Mystery Science Theater 3000

[image description: mst3k logo. fair use.]

Known as MST3K for short, this quirky little puppet show centered around a group of comedians riffing on bad movies has become a household name, and in fact you might even catch folks of my generation and younger using a brand new verb, MST-ing. If we MST’d something that means we made fun of it while it was happening. Of course this most often applies to movies, but it can be used for other things as well.

Born from MST3K, another series built around riffing on bad movies and featuring some alumni of the seminal show, RiffTrax, lacks some of the charm brought by the puppets and intermittent skits, but is still worth checking out if you haven’t yet. They’ve even riffed a few movies that aren’t generally considered bad, such as The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

One of the best things we got from MST3K, however, is the Turkey Day Marathon. Every year on the day people in the United States celebrate as Thanksgiving, we are treated to a marathon of episodes of MST3K, hosted by one or more of the cast who comment between each ep, sometimes even doing a short skit. You can still watch last year’s Turkey Day Marathon for free on YouTube:

The MST3K TURKEY DAY MARATHON 2021

Castlevania

[image description: netflix original series castlevania promotional image. fair use.]

Both the series of video games and the animated Netflix series are things I hold dear. I remember when I played the first game in the series I found it too difficult to finish, but I loved the gothic atmosphere, and the graphics for the time were not bad at all. I also still have a T-shirt with that amazing box art printed on it. I’ve played almost every Castlevania game, many of them unfinished due to my inability to get past certain areas. My favourite will forever be Symphony of the Night, though.

PSX Longplay [383] Castlevania Symphony of the Night

When the animated series came out I was eager to see it, but to be honest I wasn’t expecting much. All too often I’ve seen filmmakers or showrunners get their hands on a beloved property and then systematically destroy it with their grubby little capitalist fingers. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case here.

The first season of Netflix’s Castlevania left much to be desired, but I could tell it was off to a good start. Then the second season blew me away–and the third–and the fourth–each better than the last. I really wish we could’ve gotten a season 5, but you know Netflix. We’re lucky we got a season 4.

Castlevania: Season 2 | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix

Station Eleven

[image description: promotional image for the miniseries “station eleven”, featuring a close-up of star mackenzie davis looking anxiously off into the distance. fair use.]

To be perfectly honest, this apocalyptic miniseries about a flu pandemic that causes the collapse of civilisation wouldn’t have interested me in the slightest if it hadn’t been starring MacKenzie Davis, whom I fell in love with during her stint as Cameron Howe in the series Halt and Catch Fire. I also probably wouldn’t have even known about it if it wasn’t for The Matrix Resurrections, which I signed up for a 30-day trial with HBO Max just in order to see.

As it turns out, production for Station Eleven was actually interrupted by the real-life pandemic we’ve all been living through for the past nigh on two years. How surreal that must have been for all involved! I have to say, this show which was based on a book I haven’t read yet but am sure to now, grabbed my attention immediately and never let go, pulling me in like nothing else that streaming platform had to offer except Snowpiercer, an ongoing TNT series which I highly recommend, and the all too brief British miniseries It’s a Sin.

STATION ELEVEN Trailer (2021)

Well, that’s all I have time for right now. I’ll most likely post Part II in the next few days. But I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it.

The Breaking of the Fellowship

This post contains spoilers for both the book and film versions of The Lord of the Rings.

[image description: “the plains of rohan”. jpeg of an illustration by artist alan lee, who is the presumed copyright holder,]

I’ve been continuing my re-read of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, which as I mentioned early on I used to do every year, but if I’m honest haven’t really done since before the release of the Peter Jackson films (at least not in full; I’ve had a number of false starts since then but never got further than Lothlórien), and as has recently been brought home to me, that means more than 20 years since I’ve read it cover to cover! At any rate, I am now coming to another stage in the story wherein the differences from those movies are really beginning to stand out–so much so that I feel the need to comment on it.

Once again I’m naming my blog post after an actual chapter in The Fellowship of the Ring, but I’ll be covering more than just that single chapter, and in fact heading into the beginning of the next volume, The Two Towers. It’s worth mentioning at this point that the author actually intended The Lord of the Rings as a single work, not a trilogy. It was his publishers that opted to release it in three installments contrary to what he would’ve wanted, and so today I treat it as a single book. It’s also worth noting that the Peter Jackson films, despite all appearances, don’t really treat the book as a trilogy either. Take, for example, the end of the first film. After Boromir tries to take the Ring from Frodo, we get to see the Ringbearer heading off on his own with his faithful companion Sam, just as in the book; but Boromir’s death and subsequent funeral which are also depicted at the end of that film don’t actually happen in the book until the next chapter, “The Departure of Boromir”, which is the first chapter of The Two Towers.

Another indication that the book isn’t really meant to be three separate volumes is a little less obvious, and that is that each supposed “book” is actually divided into two “books” each. Book One and Book Two comprise The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Three and Four comprise The Two Towers, and Book Five and Six, The Return of the King. But this is a literary convention of the time and should not be taken to mean that the author meant for The Lord of the Rings to be published in six volumes (or even three as it has been many times, contrary to his intent). It is a single work, unlike for example, A Song of Ice and Fire. That being said, the divisions work well, and that’s because the author was extraordinarily brilliant at organising and structuring his novel.

Take for example, The Two Towers, not as a second novel in a series but as the middle of a single epic novel; Book Three is all about the remainder of the Fellowship trying to rescue Merry and Pippin from the Orcs of Saruman, and then to help one of the last bastions of Free Peoples to withstand the threat of the White Wizard and his army. Book Four is all about Frodo, Sam, and Gollum’s long, perilous journey into the dark fastnesses of Mordor. But of course, that doesn’t really work for a film, does it? So during Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Two Towers, our perspective switches back and forth between these two groups. The result is that if you’ve seen that movie a few times but haven’t read the book in a while, it’s easy to forget that originally you had to go eleven chapters without knowing what happened to Sam and Frodo next!

The Breaking of the Fellowship is actually handled quite well in Peter Jackson’s initial film, but some liberties were taken with the plot. For example, in the original story, after Frodo puts the Ring on and slips away from Boromir, he never again sees any member of the Fellowship other than Sam before heading to Mordor without them; unlike at the end of the movie, when he encounters Aragorn and informs him of Boromir’s treachery only to be sent off alone by the former when the latter’s horn starts to blow. Consequently, in the book Aragorn doesn’t “let Frodo go”, except in the sense that he chooses to pursue the Orcs that carried off Merry and Pippin instead of concerning himself with the fate of the Ringbearer any longer, because the fate of the Ringbearer is now literally out of his hands.

‘Let me think!’ said Aragorn. ‘And now may I make a right choice and change the evil fate of this unhappy day!’ He stood silent for a moment. ‘I will follow the Orcs,’ he said at last. ‘I would have guided Frodo to Mordor and gone with him to the end; but if I seek him now in the wilderness, I must abandon the captives to torment and death. My heart speaks clearly at last: the fate of the Bearer is in my hands no longer. The Company has played its part. Yet we that remain cannot forsake our companions while we have strength left. Come! We will go now. Leave all that can be spared behind! We will press on by day and dark!’

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Though the Aragorn of the book may seem unsure at times, it is usually always in the face of some sort of moral dilemma such as this; never in the acceptance of his destiny. So now we come to one of the biggest problems I’ve had and still have with the Peter Jackson films; the idea that the future King of Gondor “never wanted” to be such. This was purely an invention for moviegoing audiences, although even today I don’t fully understand why it was thought at all necessary.

But before I get into that, there’s something else I’d like to mention which has to do with the craft of writing, and more specifically, with a piece of writing advice I’ve seen going around which suggests you should replace the word “said” as a dialogue tag as much as possible. As a result I’ve seen this being overdone in so many ways that I just have to offer this beautiful example to the contrary, if only as a reminder that as long as you write good dialogue you don’t have to replace every instance of “said” with something more “interesting”:

‘We have come at last to a hard choice,’ he said. ‘Shall we rest by night, or shall we go on while our will and strength hold?’
‘Unless our enemies rest also, they will leave us far behind, if we stay to sleep.’ said Legolas. ‘Surely even Orcs must pause on the march?’ said Gimli. ‘Seldom will Orcs journey in the open under the sun. yet these have done so,’ said Legolas. ‘Certainly they will not rest by night.’
‘But if we walk by night, we cannot follow their trail,’ said Gimli.
‘The trail is straight, and turns neither right nor left, as far as my eyes can see,’ said Legolas.
‘Maybe, I could lead you at guess in the darkness and hold to the line,’ said Aragorn; ‘but if we strayed, or they turned aside, then when light came there might be long delay before the trail was found again.’
‘And there is this also,’ said Gimli: ‘only by day can we see if any tracks lead away. If a prisoner should escape, or if one should be carried off, eastward, say, to the Great River, towards Mordor, we might pass the signs and never know it.’
‘That is true,’ said Aragorn. ‘But if I read the signs back yonder rightly, the Orcs of the White Hand prevailed, and the whole company is now bound for Isengard. Their present course bears me out.’
‘Yet it would be rash to be sure of their counsels,’ said Gimli. ‘And what of escape? In the dark we should have passed the signs that led you to the brooch.’
‘The Orcs will be doubly on their guard since then, and the prisoners even wearier,’ said Legolas. ‘There will be no escape again, if we do not contrive it. How that is to be done cannot be guessed, but first we must overtake them.’
‘And yet even I, Dwarf of many journeys, and not the least hardy of my folk, cannot run all the way to Isengard without any pause ‘ said Gimli. ‘My heart burns me too, and I would have started sooner but now I must rest a little to run the better. And if we rest, then the blind night is the time to do so.’
‘I said that it was a hard choice,’ said Aragorn. ‘How shall we end this debate?’
‘You are our guide,’ said Gimli, ‘and you are skilled in the chase. You shall choose.’
‘My heart bids me go on,’ said Legolas. ‘But we must hold together. I will follow your counsel.’
‘You give the choice to an ill chooser,’ said Aragorn. ‘Since we passed through the Argonath my choices have gone amiss.’ He fell silent gazing north and west into the gathering night for a long while.
‘We will not walk in the dark,’ he said at length.

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Aragorn’s initial reluctance to choose in such matters is, as far as I can tell, a recent development brought on by the apparent death of one who was not only a dear friend, but a wise counselor to whom he looked to as a leader: Gandalf. Yet it isn’t long at all before Aragorn regains his confidence and becomes the leader he was always born to be–or at least it’s that way in the book. And I can’t help but think that this would have been enough to make him relatable without having him question his whole lineage and the destiny and duty he bore along with it as in the films–even to the point that at this juncture he wasn’t even yet in possession of Andúril, the Sword That Was Broken and Reforged!

I feel I must warn you that as we head into Two Towers territory, my criticism of the films will sharpen, because despite many things that I loved about them at the time, especially the inclusion of the wonderful artwork of Ted Nasmith, John Howe, and Alan Lee, even then as I peered up at them through teary fanboy eyes I couldn’t easily countenance some of the changes that were made. And now that I’m re-reading the source text, those aberrations are brought into even sharper outline. Take, for example, the following scene in which Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli first encounter the Riders of Rohan:

The Lord of the Rings – The Riders of Rohan (HD)

Movie Éomer is given no reason to trust these strangers, because movie Aragorn doesn’t even reveal his lineage, so I guess he just rolled high on his persuasion check? It’s not a bad scene, but like so many others in these films, it’s a sorely diminished one in comparison to what we were offered in the book, and a lot of that probably has to do with poor forethought, such as leaving out–or perhaps forgetting?–the Sword That Was Broken. Because this is the Aragorn who presents himself to Éomer in the book:

‘First tell me whom you serve,’ said Aragorn. ‘Are you friend or foe of Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor?’
‘I serve only the Lord of the Mark, Théoden King son of Thengel,’ answered Éomer. ‘We do not serve the Power of the Black Land far away, but neither are we yet at open war with him; and if you are fleeing from him, then you had best leave this land. There is trouble now on all our borders, and we are threatened; but we desire only to be free, and to live as we have lived, keeping our own, and serving no foreign lord, good or evil. We welcomed guests kindly in the better days, but in these times the unbidden stranger finds us swift and hard. Come! Who are you? Whom do you serve? At whose command do you hunt Orcs in our land?’
‘I serve no man,’ said Aragorn; ‘but the servants of Sauron I pursue into whatever land they may go. There are few among mortal Men who know more of Orcs; and I do not hunt them in this fashion out of choice. The Orcs whom we pursued took captive two of my friends. In such need a man that has no horse will go on foot, and he will not ask for leave to follow the trail. Nor will he count the heads of the enemy save with a sword. I am not weaponless.’
Aragorn threw back his cloak. The elven-sheath glittered as he grasped it, and the bright blade of Andúril shone like a sudden flame as he swept it out. ‘Elendil!’ he cried. ‘I am Aragorn son of Arathorn and am called Elessar, the Elfstone, Dúnadan, the heir of Isildur Elendil’s son of Gondor. Here is the Sword that was Broken and is forged again! Will you aid me or thwart me? Choose swiftly!’

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

And this is the reaction of Aragorn’s companions, and of Éomer the bold:

Gimli and Legolas looked at their companion in amazement, for they had not seen him in this mood before. He seemed to have grown in stature while Éomer had shrunk; and in his living face they caught a brief vision of the power and majesty of the kings of stone. For a moment it seemed to the eyes of Legolas that a white flame flickered on the brows of Aragorn like a shining crown.
Éomer stepped back and a look of awe was in his face. He cast down his proud eyes. ‘These are indeed strange days,’ he muttered. ‘Dreams and legends spring to life out of the grass.
‘Tell me, lord,’ he said, ‘what brings you here? And what was the meaning of the dark words? Long has Boromir son of Denethor been gone seeking an answer, and the horse that we lent him came back riderless. What doom do you bring out of the North?’

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

What doom indeed.

Lament for Boromir – Clamavi De Profundis

Medieval Monday: Labors of January — Allison D. Reid

Tales from the Green Valley – January (part 5 of 12)

Winter had tightened its grip, and the most important labor of January was staying warm! With only hearth fires for heat, the cold was a very real danger for everyone, but especially the young, the elderly, and the poor. There were still several feasting days to be celebrated, which continued to be a blessing for […]

Medieval Monday: Labors of January — Allison D. Reid

The Movies and Stories that Inspired Dave Arneson to Invent the Dungeon Crawl — DMDavid

Around 1971 Dave Arneson and his circle of Minneapolis gamers invented games where players controlled individual characters who grew with experience and who could try anything because dice and a referee determined the outcomes. The group tried this style of play in various settings, but Dave invented one that proved irresistible: the dungeon. Dave’s Blackmoor…

The Movies and Stories than Inspired Dave Arneson to Invent the Dungeon Crawl — DMDavid

A Brace of Tolkien Posts for his 130th Birthday (#TolkienBirthdayToast) — A Pilgrim in Narnia

As J.R.R. Tolkien was born about 68,374,080 hours ago, the Tolkien Society is once again raising a toast to the Professor on his birthday, 3 January 2022 (see here). After Bilbo left the Shire on his eleventy-first birthday in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo toasted his uncle’s birthday each year, which he shared. Tolkien […]

A Brace of Tolkien Posts for his 130th Birthday (#TolkienBirthdayToast) — A Pilgrim in Narnia

That Time I Got So Skinny So Fast I Was Afraid I Had Cancer

[image description: a selfie i took in 2016 with insufficient lighting, at age 45. i’m standing on my porch at night under my porchlight in ren faire garb, clad in a tunic of forest green. my hair is shoulder-length, my face partly obscured in shadow, and i’m the thinnest i’ve been since probably my early twenties. image copyright 2016 by “strider” lee.]

For most of my adult life I’ve had sit-down jobs. In fact, for almost a decade I worked as a customer service representative in a call centre, which meant that I was basically tied to a desk for 90% of my work day, not counting the hour I spent sitting down to eat my lunch, or the two fifteen minute breaks I wasted puffing on cancer sticks outside the front entrance of the building. In addition to this, aside from the occasional short-lived health kick (usually in the form of one fad diet or another), I’ve been a lifelong enthusiastic consumer of pub food, fast food, and alcohol (mostly in the form of beer, wine, or mead). So I’ve had what’s commonly known as a pot belly, or beer belly, for as long as I can remember. Well, that’s not exactly true, because I do still remember my childhood, when I was so skinny you could see my ribs, and “ate like a bird” according to my grandmother, so that one time a neighbour accused my mother of not feeding me and threatened to call child welfare; my teen years, when as the proverbial 98-pound weakling I first started lifting weights, and my early twenties, when I had six-pack abs. But my “working out” phase was short lived, and by the time I was forty-two I thought I’d never see those days again.

Then my mother died. I was unemployed when it happened, and there was a recession so I couldn’t find work. Eventually I had to abandon my mother’s rent-controlled two-bedroom apartment in the city where I’d wound up crashing after having previously lost my higher-rent studio, and move in with my sister in what had always been the family summer home, in a semi-rural area. This tiny two-bedroom house, barely more than a shack, was run down and constantly in need of repair, but we had an acre of land which my immigrant grandparents had been able to purchase at a steal back in the 1950’s along with the house itself which was built in 1943. It had no insulation but it did have electricity, running cold and hot water (unfortunately practically undrinkable due to high sulfuric content), and since my sister had moved up there a couple years prior, it also now had a brand new wood-burning stove in the living room for heating, which we supplemented with electric heaters in the other rooms.

When I first moved permanently into my current residence, it was late summer. Come autumn, I had to start splitting logs for the fire. I don’t mean that I went around felling trees; I’m talking about a cord of seasoned firewood we ordered and had delivered to us. But these logs were too big for our firebox, so I had to learn how to split them with a maul. It wasn’t easy and it took a while, but eventually I got pretty good at it. And it’s a good thing, too, because the winters here can be long and harsh. So this was the beginning of my new non-sedentary lifestyle, brief though it would prove to be. It was literally the first year of my life in which I was ever obligated to exert that much physical effort on a regular basis (as opposed to doing so voluntarily, as with the weightlifting), but as much as I hated it at first, I couldn’t deny the benefits. By winter’s end I found I had more energy, which made me feel ten years younger.

[image description: photo of a lit wood-burning stove of the sort we have in our home. attribution: 白蛇の騎士, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons. image has been modified from its original source as is permitted under the terms of the license.]

Yet I still had a bit of a paunch. I’m guessing that was due to my age, eating habits, and regular consumption of alcoholic beverages. Smoking may have played a part as well. I’ve been a tobacco user for much of my life. Started with Newports when I was twelve, switched to Marlboros when I was sixteen, then ran the gamut in my twenties. I’ve probably smoked most of the brands anyone in America has ever heard of and then some. But then in my mid-thirties, inspired by Tolkien, I became almost exclusively a pipe smoker. That lasted until I was around forty, when for various reasons it became impractical for me to smoke pipes, so I’d switched to rolling my own cigarettes at this point.

All this time, my sister had been driving our late mother’s car, which was how we were able to get groceries. But right after the last snowfall of that first winter, one evening the brakes failed as we were coming down the mountain on our way home from grocery shopping and we almost crashed. We had the car towed to a mechanic and took a taxi home, but soon learned that the cost of repairing the vehicle was more than we could afford. So after that I had to walk back and forth to town in order to fetch food and supplies. Town was two and a half miles from our house, but I had a backpack for the groceries and a folding shopping cart that I could wheel additional groceries home in (especially the many gallons of bottled water we required since we couldn’t drink our well water), and once we were blessed with warmer weather it wasn’t much of a hardship anymore. But of course, there was a limit to the amount of groceries I could get at one time without a car, so my trips to and from town on foot became quite frequent.

[image description: “country road”. landscape photo of a paved unmarked rural road winding through deciduous forest in daylight during summer, lined with telephone poles, from the perspective of a pedestrian walking on the left-hand side. copyright 2016 by “strider” lee.]

Then that summer I landed a job in the seafood department of ShopRite. That actually wasn’t in what I’ve been referring to as “town”, which is really more of a village (and one that hasn’t had a real supermarket in decades), but rather in the next village over, which meant having to walk two and a half miles into “town” to catch a bus over the mountain into the next “town”, and then walk another three miles or so along a busy highway to the workplace. At this point you’re probably wondering why I didn’t just get a bicycle. Well, eventually I did. But I couldn’t manage some of those steep hills without getting winded (I’ve had asthma since I was a child and I was still a smoker at the time), and it made me nervous having to cycle with the traffic as is required by law rather than against it so that you can see what’s coming at you; especially when an 18 wheeler blew by me so fast and close one day that the wind it created nearly knocked me and my bike off the road. Oh, yeah, and then there was that night when despite my bright headlight I didn’t see this large fallen branch lying across the bike path and I was consequently catapulted into some roadside brush and nearly impaled on a sharp jagged metal pole that had snapped (probably due to a vehicle colliding with it) and for whatever reason had not been repaired or removed yet.

Anyway, the job at ShopRite was only part-time but with all the travelling I had to do it felt more like a full-time job except for the fact that I did have two or three days a week to rest between adventures–and man, did I cherish those! And yes, being into tabletop roleplaying games, of course I likened my situation to a D&D solo adventure. Eventually, walking became so much a part of my life that at one point my friends tried to nickname me “Walker” until I half jokingly suggested “Strider” and it stuck. I’m nowhere near as tall as Aragorn, but people have often remarked that I have a long stride. In fact, a childhood friend once nicknamed me “Daddy Longlegs”. But due to the walking and the job at the supermarket I became pretty well known in the area, so it wasn’t long before people who saw me walking on the road as they were driving by started stopping to give me rides. That was mostly during the day, though, and my real problem was on certain nights; namely the ones on which it fell to me to close up the seafood department.

That wasn’t an easy job, and I only had a limited time to do it. In fact, if I wanted to make it out of there by the end of my shift I had to start before it was over, which meant that customers could still come up to the counter demanding something I’d already put away (and this happened pretty frequently). It wasn’t merely that I had to put all the fish away, all in their separate containers, I then had to get all the ice out of the display cases, and then thoroughly clean the display cases, and the rest of the department as well, including sweeping and mopping. The crux, however, was that my shift on those nights ended at 10pm and the last bus back to my little village left at the same time. So even if I closed on time (which I eventually learned to do rather well), I wouldn’t be able to catch the bus; not even if one of my co-workers gave me a ride across town. So if I couldn’t get anyone to drive me all the way home, which was often, I’d have to walk. Seven miles. Over a mountain.

[image description: “mountain road”. landscape photo of a paved mountain highway with painted yellow double lines down the centre, winding through deciduous forest in daytime during summer under clear blue skies, from the perspective of a pedestrian walking on the left shoulder. copyright 2016 by “strider” lee.]

In the beginning I had to do this at least twice a week. And it would take me around four hours. I’d typically get home at around two or three in the morning, and if I was lucky, I wouldn’t have an early shift the next day. In the summer it wasn’t so bad, except when it rained. In autumn and early winter was when it really began to suck. But it wasn’t just the weather that made it awful. Even at the best of times, it was the boredom. I didn’t feel safe listening to music or audiobooks with headphones or earbuds since I might not hear an oncoming car. So mostly I just sang to myself, or recited poetry, my own and that of others I’d memorised–and smoked–and drank. I always made sure I took plenty of beer or wine with me on my long journey, as well as a few snacks.

There were times when drivers would lean on the horn as they passed me by and some would even gesticulate at me or yell something out the window that I couldn’t make out due to the Doppler effect I guess, and the reason for that–or so I surmised–was this mistaken belief that pedestrians are supposed to walk with the traffic rather than against it, like cyclists. This is not true, as they would know if they ever bothered to read their Driver’s Manual. Walkers and bikers use the same path, at least where I live. Think about that. You want your walkers to be walking in the opposite direction of your cyclists so they can get out of the way of the cyclist without them having to honk a horn or ring a bell (or in the absence of either, yell “WATCH YOUR BACK!!!” as one errant cyclist coming up behind me on the wrong side of the road once did). Also, if you’re walking towards oncoming traffic you’re less likely to get hit by a car or truck–even if diving into the roadside brush might kill you just as easily.

Looking back, however, I now see what a blessing in disguise this time in my life really was. I’d never felt more alive. I also briefly discovered the joys of hiking. Growing up in the city, I’d always been drawn to natural surroundings. I used to hang out in parks a lot, and often my friends and I would leave the paved paths and explore the more densely wooded, half-wild areas (usually looking for a secluded spot to smoke pot), and I had once gone on a school camping trip for a weekend in Massachusetts, where I learned a few useful wilderness survival skills including starting a fire using the hand drill method, but this was the first time I’d ventured alone into actual wilderness, if only for a short distance. I could sense a power there that could only faintly be felt in urban areas, if at all. Had things turned out differently, I have no doubt that I would have become a frequent hiker and camper. I can only imagine what it would be like to be there now, on the mountain, in the depths of winter.

[image description: “blazed trail”. rocky path through a dense deciduous forest during daytime in the summer. in the distance the blue trail blazing mark painted on the trunk of a tree can be seen. copyright 2016 by “strider” lee.]

My lot improved tremendously when my sister’s ex-boyfriend, who was a mechanic, gave her a car. She still couldn’t always pick me up because she’d also gotten a job by then, closer to home, but with equally crazy hours–that’s how it is around here, and good luck finding anything but part-time work–but at least I didn’t have to haul groceries anymore. Then, having reunited with our estranged father and his wife, who paid off our back taxes so we wouldn’t lose the house and also bought us smart phones and put us on their family plan, things were starting to look up. With the phone my walks became a lot less boring because now I could play Pokémon Go–though sometimes I could walk for over an hour and not encounter a single Pokémon, and in the meantime the game would drain my battery so quickly that I eventually had to invest in a portable charger. As I would discover later on, Pokémon were far more numerous in the city, and also far more diverse, but in retrospect the scarcity made playing in the country a lot more challenging and rewarding!

As I recall it took about six months of this regular, sustained exercise consisting mostly of walking before I began to notice, but suddenly as if overnight, the fat had melted off my bones! It happened so fast it was alarming. My first thought was that I had cancer, because one of the symptoms given on Web MD is sudden weight loss. But luckily, it wasn’t. It was apparently just perfectly normal weight loss due to all that exercise. And I hadn’t changed anything else about my lifestyle! I still drank as much, ate as much (in fact probably more, due to the increased activity), and smoked as much as I ever had before, and yet here I was, thinner than I’d been in two decades. And it felt great! I felt like I was twenty-five instead of forty-five. Just from all that walking–and I know that must have been what did it because of what happened next.

[image description: landscape photo taken with a smart phone running the pokemon go app, featuring a pokemon known as zubat, resembling a blue bat, flying over the green grass of a real life rural scene during the day in the middle of summer. in the background a large barn-like structure, painted white with a green roof, with a white picket fence around it, stands beside a mountain highway against clear blue skies. painted in large black block letters on the side of the structure are the words “local = good” in all caps. image copyright 2016 by “strider” lee.]

When I finally secured full time work, it was in the form of a nice cushy office job in the city. And a year later, despite having to walk two and a half miles to town every weekday morning to catch the bus to work, and then if my sister wasn’t available to pick me up, which was often, another two and a half miles back home again at the end of the workday–I was back to my old self again, beer belly and all, because I spent most of my days sitting; either at a desk or on the three hour bus rides back and forth between my village and the city. Also, with the addition of a propane heater for our kitchen kindly donated by a good friend’s mother, I no longer had to split wood for the fire.

And then COVID-19 happened, and I got sent home from the job on paid leave, and my sister and I didn’t leave our property at all during quarantine, just having all of our groceries delivered to us. And when my employer tried to get me to return to work a few months later despite the pandemic not being even remotely over, I refused and was subsequently let go. So since March of 2020 I’ve been more sedentary than I’ve ever been in my entire adult life, unwilling to risk going anywhere in this strange land of anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers who think they’re freedom fighters because they watch Fox News, and in the meantime age has finally caught up with me. Lower back pain and bad knees limit my mobility and make me less inclined to willingly exercise. My beer belly is bigger than ever before. Friends, I no longer deserve the name of “Strider”. Henceforth you may refer to me as Fatty Bolger!


“Going Down To Liverpool” by Katrina and the Waves

Christmas With J.R.R. Tolkien: The Father Christmas Letters — A Pilgrim in Narnia

My little 2015 piece on J.R.R. Tolkien’s funny and endearing Father Christmas Letters has had quite a spin around the internet this week. I cannot think of a better Christmas note for you, dear readers of A Pilgrim in Narnia, than to touch this up a bit and send it back out. I have come […]

Christmas With J.R.R. Tolkien: The Father Christmas Letters — A Pilgrim in Narnia

Some Lost Christmas Traditions from Brittany — Bonjour From Brittany

The folk customs and traditions regarding the celebration of Christmas differ from region to region in France, as elsewhere, and those in Brittany were once quite distinctive.

Some Lost Christmas Traditions from Brittany — Bonjour From Brittany

Thousands gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the annual winter solstice. — Stonehenge Stone Circle News and Information

Crowds came together for the biggest gathering at Stonehenge since the pandemic began. Thousands of people gathered at Stonehenge on Wednesday morning to celebrate the annual winter solstice. The event, which marks the first sunrise after the longest night of the year, saw 2,500 people visit the World Heritage site in Salisbury – the largest gathering at […]

Thousands gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the annual winter solstice. — Stonehenge Stone Circle News and Information

Reblog or Repost? Is There a Difference?

Recently I was asked by a fellow WordPress blogger to remove my reblog of one of their posts. Of course I had no problem doing so; I simply apologised and deleted it, making a note to not reblog them in the future. That would have normally been the end of it, but for something else they wrote in the course of requesting said removal which stuck in my mind, because I can be a bit of a stickler sometimes, and it eventually inspired me to write this article in order to clarify something.

This mutual (who, should they deign to read this, might understandably choose to unfollow me) called my reblog of their post a “repost”, unnecessarily threatened litigation, and also made sneering reference to my “many… reposts of other people’s work“, adding that to them “that is not blogging”.

[image description: “confused nick young meme“. (fair use)]

So here’s me doing some blogging, folks. I know it’s been a while… my last original post was twelve whole days ago. For shame!

Now, while I can’t claim to be an expert in netiquette, I have been on the internet since the early nineties as an active participant in all sorts of online communities, and I’m pretty sure that a “repost” would have constituted the entire post appearing on my blog, or at least a significant portion of it, not just a snippet that amounts to a single image followed by an incomplete first paragraph with a link back to the original post, such as is automatically generated when you click WP’s “Share” button. As explained in WP’s FAQ about reblogs, “reblogging is not the same as lifting an entire post without attribution”, so they won’t remove a reblog of your post even if you ask them to, flatly stating: “If you’re not comfortable with others being able to reblog your content, you may want to make your site private.” This makes perfect sense to me, because I honestly don’t see any difference between sharing a post on WordPress and sharing it to any other social media site, such as Facebook or Twitter. This will also automatically generate a snippet with an image and some text from the site being linked to, affording potential visitors a preview of what they might find there.

Granted, the user in question did mention that they had removed WP’s “Share” button from the bottom of their post in order to prevent this sort of thing, which is true if viewing the styled version of their site (which I hardly ever do for anyone anymore due to failing eyesight) rather than in WordPress Reader, which perhaps they aren’t aware exists. I note now, however, that they’ve added every other “Share” button you can think of to the bottom of that same post, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and even Tumblr! And yes, it is true that I like to share content on my blog which I think will be interesting and beneficial to my readers, and when I’m too busy to write much (such as during the holidays), I may do so a bit more often just to keep the blog active. But there is plenty of great content out there for me to reblog, and therefore no reason for me to reblog someone if they don’t want me to.

Still, I felt it worth a mention that in the online communities I frequent (or in most cases used to frequent), “reposting” means something else entirely, and is almost universally frowned upon as a form of theft of IP (intellectual property). That’s where you copy-paste a significant portion, if not all of, someone’s text and/or download and re-upload an image or images from their site and then post it to your own site (sometimes attribution is included, and even a link back, but that doesn’t make it any better). Clearly that’s not what I’ve been doing on this blog. But that’s neither here nor there. All any of you need do is ask and I will remove any or all reblogs of your posts from my site with no questions asked, as a point of courtesy.

Happy Holidays!

~Strider Lee