This post includes reviews of Saving Missy by Beth Morrey and The Madness of Grief by The Reverend Richard Coles.
As reading is one of the ways I relax and I was feeling tired, I had a quiet weekend last month reading one book on Saturday and another on Sunday. I decided to start with the light read I had picked from a display of new books near the entrance to the library before reading the more serious book from the same area.
Saving Missy: Everyone deserves a second chance by Beth Morrey is a novel about a 79 year-old woman, Millicent. Her life is lonely at the beginning of the story, but chance encounters lead to all sorts of changes. The story unfolds with a few surprises right to the end. I really enjoyed it and will be looking out for Beth Morrey’s next book due out in 2022. There are reading group questions.
Saving Missy is also available as an e-book and an audiobook.
The Madness of Grief
The Madness of Grief: A Memoir of Love and Loss by The Reverend Richard Coles is a much more serious book. The Reverend Richard Coles is a well-known Church of England vicar, whose loss of his partner, David, was something I knew about from Twitter. The book covers the end of David’s life and the time following it, with reminiscences about their life together. There were many things I was unaware of concerning practices around the burial of C of E priests. I am not sure that what was described is universally the case. There were touching scenes where people offered friendship and kindness to Richard. (I reviewed a book which Richard Coles co-authored here.) The Madness of Grief is also available as an ebook.
A book in the same genre, which I read a very long time ago, is A Grief Observed by CS Lewis, in which the author wrote about the loss of his wife, Joy. There is no standard way to process grief; everyone deals with it differently
The next three books are all from our shelves. I had read them previously, but too long ago to remember much about them. They are all by JRR Tolkien.
The three books
The Silmarillion is a prequel to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It was compiled from JRR Tolkien’s papers after his death and published in 1977. All I could remember about it was that I was very disappointed with it shortly after its publication. With Middle Earth fresh in my mind I began reading it as soon as I finished The Return of the King. I found it very slow reading, but worth the effort. The early part included a sort of creation story and all the different races, which peopled Middle Earth, were slowly introduced with chronologies and genealogies for each. I could only read a few pages at a time, so interspersed the books in my previous post with this. It reminded me of the Books of Kings in the Bible, with the amount of information about each family and the characters of the individuals.
Later there is an exciting section about journeys and battles, but the best is kept until the very end, when the answer to a mystery is revealed. Having an index of characters, a map and other appendices this is a remarkable work ably edited by Christopher Tolkien, son of JRR Tolkien.
Tree and Leaf is a small volume. My 1974 edition has 50p as the price! Inside there is the text of a lecture about Fairy stories presented in 1938, with additional notes – some as footnotes, others appended. On Fairy Stories is followed by Tree and Leaf, a story, which I’d classify as a fable or allegory rather than a fairy story. However it does illustrate what Tolkien regarded as sub-creation – the creation of imaginary worlds. I had not remembered as much about this story as I thought. I still believe that Tolkien modelled one of the characters on himself, but for a different reason. The story is perhaps Tolkien’s equivalent to CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce, although their beliefs were not exactly the same. One thing, which struck me, is how the world has changed since Tolkien’s time. Would a young adult reader know about railway porters? Tolkien was writing in a time when train travel was the most usual and only a very small minority of people travelled overseas.
The third book I read really is a fairy story. Smith of Wootton Major is a tiny hard-backed volume with illustrations. If it has a lesson to teach, it is that people will believe what they want to believe, but it is best enjoyed as a story!
My vintage copies
With libraries and bookshops closed I decided to reread The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I first read them in my early teens and perhaps more than once since, however I had watched the films more recently. With no rush to return books to the library I read more slowly than usual and took time to digest a chapter or two.
Apart from many details of the stories I had forgotten the wonderful descriptions and the (deliberately) old-fashioned style of writing. I hadn’t previously noticed some of the hidden depths to the writing with echoes of phrases and concepts from the Bible. JRR Tolkien (which I struggle to remember is pronounced Tolkeen) was a Christian and a member of The Inklings along with CS Lewis.
The maps included in each volume are works of art helpful in understanding the journeys made by the characters*. The original maps for the Lord of the Rings were created by his son, Christopher Tolkien , according to Wikipedia. The appendices in The Return of the King are extremely detailed with the background to the stories – history, family trees, alphabets, calendars, a timeline of the story and more. Even so there is a publisher’s note in my copy apologising that it hadn’t been possible to publish and index of names promised in the Fellowship of the Ring!
There is a downside to reading really good literature: a free book I downloaded to my Kindle app couldn’t compete with these amazing books and will not be reviewed here!
*In case any readers are not familiar with these books, they are works of fantasy. The characters include creatures from mythology such as elves and dwarves and a species invented by the author – hobbits. A touch of humour is that in the folklore of some, hobbits were missing.