Lessons Learned: Lord of the Rings

[In this segment, we discuss a popular tag on the site, and what are some of the most interesting observations made from the topic.]

Lord of the Rings is perhaps one of the most complete fantasy worlds ever created. There are so many unanswered questions, it’s the perfect topic for a Stack Exchange site. I’ve seen questions which have really made me think. Some of the great insights I’ve gained by studying the topic here include:

Who or What was Tom Bombadill? This is actually the single most upvoted question so far on the site. The most popular answer leads through a discussion first on what he isn’t. He isn’t a human, dwarf, elf, magician, doesn’t seem affected by the One Ring, and doesn’t seem to care for much around him, except for his surrounds. The most likely theory: he is one of the Ainur, descendent of Ilúvatar , the creator, or somehow related to them. But, as the second most popular answer quotes from Tolkien himself: “And even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally).”

What special powers did the Dwarf rings give their users? So, we know there were a total of 20 rings of power, 9 given to humans, 7 to dwarves, 3 to elves, and 1 to Sauron. Of these, all play a significant role in the series, except for the Dwarf Rings. What did they do? It seems likely from various answers that the 16 rings made by Sauron, except for the One Ring, were all very similar in power. The main difference seems to be how they affect a person, given their biology. The main use of the Dwarf Rings was twofold. The advantage by having them was great wealth. The disadvantage was extreme greed. The dwarves who used them were not subject to Sauron’s control, nor did they turn invisible.

Why weren’t the Three Rings for the Elven-kings destroyed as well? We all know the One Ring was destroyed. The human and dwarf rings ceased to function after the destruction of the One Ring. But, the 3 elf rings, free from the corruption of Sauron, still functioned, or is so believed. They were all removed from Middle-earth at the end of the book. Why weren’t they destroyed? From reading this topic, a clear answer is not provided, but it seems likely that the 3 rings lost at least some, if not all, of their powers, that they had some connection to the One Ring, despite the Elves’ best attempts. The rings disappeared from Middle-earth, without us knowing if they still worked. By leaving Middle-earth, it no longer mattered if they were destroyed, and they were in good hands. It seems like it just didn’t matter.

Finally, I’d like to end with an answer that was so amazing, that I can’t even begin to give it any justice, so I’m just going to give the title of the question and a link. I hope you enjoy Lord Of The Rings – what is the important background information contained in the poems?

Review of Another Earth

Another Earth is an indie science-fiction film about a young woman, Rhoda Williams (played by Brit Marling), who on the eve of heading off to MIT gets in a tragic car accident. There’s a remarkable discovery that there’s another planet in our solar system, and that planet is the titular Another Earth. Over the next few years as the other Earth comes closer to our Earth, where the story takes place, we follow the dramatic turns her life takes as a result of her car accident.

As a sort of counter point to movies that use science-fiction to provide a reason for special effects and explosions, this is a quiet film that uses a science-fiction plot element to examine the weight of loss and regret. Here the focus is on the characters. The young Rhoda struggles to determine how to live a life after the accident. We see the damage the accident did to the man in the other car (played by Lost‘s William Mapother), and the hope they both have that a better life is happening above them on the other Earth.

The muted tone and slow, deliberate style of this film isn’t for everyone. However, if you’re a fan of sci-fi where the human condition is dissected, and where fantastical elements are minimal, you owe it to yourself to catch this film. Unfortunately, the film saw a limited release in theaters, so many people won’t be able to catch it until it’s released on streaming, DVD & Blu-ray.

Literature Sister Site Launches

The Literature StackExchange site is now available to the public.  If you’ve got questions that need answering by a literature expert, then this is a good place to ask – note that their current definition of “literature” is quite wide (it includes popular fiction, not just “those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit”).

The site actually has quite a large proportion of questions that are about science fiction and fantasy literature, so if you’ve got some expertise there, you might be interested in answering some questions for them (if you’ve got an account on our site with at least 200 reputation, then if you associate the two accounts – you’ll be prompted to do this if you use the same OpenID – then you’ll start off there with 101 reputation).

If you’ve got a question about science fiction or fantasy literature, where do you ask that question, now that there’s both sites?  Consider who you would like an answer from: an expert in science fiction / fantasy, or an expert in literature in general; different types of questions will suit each site.  Some questions will be perfectly acceptable on both sites, and in those cases it’s up to the asker to decide where they’d like to ask (in general questions won’t be migrated between the sites, and duplicates may exist on both sites, as long as they are not exact duplicates). You should definitely not post the same question on both sites, however.

If you’ve got questions about writing science fiction or fantasy, then you’re still probably best off asking over at Writers rather than Literature or our site.  Note that the Literature site currently accepts recommendation questions, which are off-topic at our site, so if you’re after a science fiction or fantasy recommendation, then you can ask there (we continue to welcome these questions in chat, as well).

iPad PADD application: disappointing

Ever since it was released, the iPad has been compared to Star Trek’s PADD – the “personal access display device” used since the original series.  The official iPad PADD app (from CBS Interactive) brings the PADD-iPad loop full circle by turning an iPad into a PADD simulator (US$5 in the App Store).

The interface of the app mimics the LCARS (Library Computer Access and Retrieval System) interface that was used in The Next Generation.  This is well done, with appropriate sound effects, Majel Barrett‘s voice, and good-looking graphics.  The only complaint I have here is that the app doesn’t rotate to portrait (which PADDs in TNG certainly did). Note that while it looks authentic, this is mostly cosmetic – tapping an image of a cast member will take you to the cast index page, not the page specific to that character, for example, and many areas you would expect to be ‘hot’ do nothing at all.

The app provides access to the information available on StarTrek.com (aliens, locations, technology, and an episode guide).  This is the most disappointing aspect of the app —one of the reasons that I purchased it was that I hoped it would be a useful reference source for answering [tag]star-trek[/tag] questions; unfortunately the information available is extremely limited and superficial.  If the app was an interface to Memory Alpha or Wikipedia, it would contain a wealth of information, in an attractive interface (and would be much closer to the actual PADD).  Although Memory Alpha’s content is only available under a non-commerical license (non-commerical and Star Trek merchandising are rather like matter/antimatter), I think Wikipedia’s content could have been included (supplementing the official StarTrek.com content) and would have significantly increased the amount of information available.

Personally, I would have preferred if the links went beyond Star Trek information, and if this was a LCARS interface to a true encyclopedia (Wikipedia would suffice).  There are plenty of other Wikipedia browsers, but this one would hold a certain fan appeal.  I doubt I would use it for most Wikipedia searches, but it would appropriately set the mood when doing Star Trek research.

The app description does say “The official Star Trek PADD app database does not contain all information within the Star Trek Universe.  We will continue to update the database as information becomes available”.  I’m hoping that they do mean the whole universe here (and not simply whatever is available on StarTrek.com), and I’m hopeful (but skeptical) that there will be regular updates that significantly increase the amount of content available.

I’m keeping the app installed on one of my iPads for now, but I suspect that I’ll rarely use it, and when I next purge unused apps, it’s likely to go.  If you’re only interested in the cosmetic appeal, or if the shallow information available at StarTrek.com is all you’re interested in, then it might be worth $5 to you.

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