The Fellowship of the Ring 20th Anniversary

On December 19th, 2001, I attended a screening of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring with my mother and her friend, Pasquale. My mom occasionally read me Tolkien at bedtime, and she’d showed me the Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit, which I loved, a few years before. My favorite character was already Strider because I loved him in the books (I now have a cat named after him). I remember being excited for the release of the film, and my father had already bought me the first action figure I found from the movie, a Legolas that sits on a shelf behind me as I write this. Despite my anticipation, there’s no way I could’ve known how profoundly The Fellowship of the Ring would shape my life.

To understand Fellowship’s influence on me, you’d have to start by recalling the days following 9-11. While I didn’t lose anyone, I was at an age where the events of 9-11 profoundly impacted me. The year before, I’d started to mature rapidly due to the passing of my grandmother, and 9-11 only increased my explosion toward adulthood. Over the course of two years, I discovered anyone in my family could be gone at any given second, and my country could be attacked at random by terrorists. Nightly news coverage and chatter kept 9-11 at the forefront of my mind. Making things worse, New York was only about a two-hour drive from my hometown, and I’d been there several times with my dad. This wasn’t a tragedy in a far-off land. This was next door. Suffice it to say, I was living in a world of fear. Thankfully, the Fellowship of the Ring allowed me to escape all that for three hours.

As a quick aside related to 9-11, while sitting in the theater waiting for The Fellowship of the Ring to start, I got my first full glimpse at Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. The previous summer, I’d tried to watch the teaser trailer online, but I couldn’t get it to completely download over dialup. The trailer I’d been unable to view had been one in which Spider-Man captured a criminal’s helicopter in a web between the twin towers. Raimi recut the film to edit out the twin towers. This holiday season sees the return of the first big screen Spider-Man villain, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, in Spider-Man: No Way Home. Dafoe’s Goblin returns to theaters almost twenty years to the day from his first appearance as the character. It’s fascinating how many things come full circle.

But I digress. This essay is about The Fellowship of the Ring. I remember being enthralled with the film from Galadriel’s opening words, and, because I was a huge fan of the Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit, I geeked out over the brief shot of Bilbo in Gollum’s cave during the film’s introduction. To this day, I’ve never felt as fully transported to another world as I did during that viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring. It was a magical experience where I felt like I entered Middle-earth and journeyed alongside the nine companions. The Fellowship of the Ring fundamentally impacted my trajectory as a person. I went home so excited about the Lord of the Rings that I almost immediately dove into The Two Towers. I had to know what came next. After that, I finished The Return of the King. Ironically, it was a movie that truly started my love of reading.

That wasn’t the only impact The Fellowship of the Ring had on me though. I became obsessed with storytelling. Soon, I was creating my own fictional worlds. At first, my invented realms closely mirrored Middle-earth, but as time went on my work matured. Eventually, my Tolkien obsession led me to writing an unpublished fantasy novel, The Swords of Fellowship, while earning my Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. The Swords of Fellowship was directly inspired by The Lord of the Rings, and it was my attempt to put my own spin on Tolkien’s ideas.

In the years since that first viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring, I’ve returned to the film regularly, albeit in a slightly different form. I received The Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition DVDs for Christmas in 2002, and I’m certain I’ve watched those disks more than any other DVDs I’ve ever owned. At this point, I’m sure I could recite every line by heart while watching along. The film never ceases to evoke tears from me when Boromir redeems himself by fighting to protect Merry and Pippin, and when Sam rushes into the water after Frodo. And my pulse always pounds faster as Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli charge off to hunt orcs at the end. Truthfully, I enjoy every moment of this film, and it always allows me to escape whatever issues or troubles I’m having, just like when I first watched it.

This reflection has already gone on longer than I intended, but if you’ve read this far, I hope you’ll indulge a few more of my thoughts on this movie’s impact. My best friends in life all feel the same way about this movie as I do. In fact, three of us decided to get the elvish word for friend tattooed on our arms. I’d wager that most kids near my age feel the same way about The Fellowship of the Ring. It came along at a perfect time to help us escape the horrors of 9-11 and showed us a world where good hobbits triumphed over dark lords. So, cheers to The Fellowship of the Ring on twenty years of being a perfect fantasy film. As the hobbits say, “may the hair on your feet never fall out.”

Milo

Milo Cover01001101 01101001 01101100 01101111 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01100111 01101111 01101111 01100100 (Milo is Good). That’s my short review of fellow Seton Hill alumni Alexander Pyles’ excellent chapbook. It was published by Radix Media as part of their Science Fiction Futures Series. The company did a superb job of elevating the traditional chapbook into a more prestigious format. Aside from the stellar layout, the cover and interior art by Nico Roxe is stunningly original. So, what makes the story 01100111 01101111 01101111 01100100 (good)?

Spoilers Below

Well, I’ve already demonstrated one of my favorite elements. Pyles has his protagonist occasionally thinking in binary, which is rendered in the same manner I illustrated above. This is a uniquely cool idea, and it works perfectly in this tale. Milo, the namesake of the narrative, is a disabled man who decides to have his brain removed from his body and inserted into a robotic one. Things are great, at first.

There are two different elements at play in Milo that I really enjoyed. The first is the way the story reminded me of the horror inherent in the isolated brain trope, wherein a character has their brain removed from their body. My favorite example of this trope is in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness, but Milo is not a horror tale. Pyles just renders Milo’s situation so well that readers will find themselves unnerved by the presentation of the character coming to grips with not having a body.

The second element is Milo’s slow loss of humanity in his robot form. At first, Milo only thinks in binary occasionally, but, by the end of the narrative, he only thinks in binary. This reminded me of moments in Paul Verhoeven’s classic, Robocop. Except, in this case, the robotic components consume the human, instead of the human transcending “literal” programming. The reader is left wondering what it means to be human, and I believe that is precisely the response the best science fiction should inspire in readers.

To conclude, Milo is an excellent story. It’s original, and it makes you think about fundamental questions we need to be discussing as a society. On top of that, you can pick up a copy without breaking your bank, and you’ll be getting a gorgeous piece of art to display on your bookshelf. You can also spring for a copy of the entire Science Fiction Futures collection from Radix Media and discover what the other entries in the series have to offer. I’m sure the quality is just as good as Milo. It’s a great time to be a reader when a chapbook can pack so much punch, but I’d certainly be interested in spending more time in Milo’s world if Pyles wanted to expand the tale further.

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So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Jeremiah and his fiancee post-graduationIt feels like there is just too much to say about my final Residency at Seton Hill, but I will endeavor to complete the recaps I started in June of 2016. My three years in the program went faster then I could have imagined. Each semester built my skills and confidence as a writer. Now, I feel ready to charge into the publishing world with my mystical lightning sword drawn high. Before I do that, here’s what I learned over the course of my time mastering writing about popular fiction.

When you first arrive at Seton Hill, make sure you give yourself extra time to navigate to your destination. You will get lost…repeatedly. I found at least one new area on every trip to campus, but somehow, I never got around to hunting down our taxidermized mascot. Don’t be like me. Seek out the magical stuffed Griffin. He probably has much wisdom to impart.

Don’t dread everything. Public speaking sucks, but you’ll never be put in a room with people rooting for you to fail. Everyone will be super nice and encouraging. Even when you get stuck listening to the rare person who doesn’t dig your work, you’ll still have other positive people providing feedback too. The teaching module and thesis defense are the two biggest sources of dread in the program, but neither is anywhere near as scary as it seems from afar.

A note on defending your thesis, if you rehearse reading your story for days, weeks, and months, be sure to practice thanking your significant other (in my case a wonderful fiancée) to their face. If you don’t, you run the risk of breaking down into tears as I did. It’s hard to get people to listen to your commanding authorial voice after you’ve just struggled to avoid a full-fledged tear fest at the lectern. Other than that speed bump, I loved the entire thesis defense. It was amazingly cool to get to answer questions about the story I’ve been writing for years.

The actual graduation flies by even faster than the rest of the time in the program. The entire ceremony seemed to occur in the blink of an eye. One second, I was eating lunch with my classmates, the next I was driving home through a nasty mix of snow and salt. In order to push through the winter slog, I just kept thinking about how much I wanted to be home with my cat, Strider. When I finally arrived safely at my apartment, Strider demanded food with a vocal me-yowl. Isn’t that cat-typical?

Oh, I didn’t even get to mention that I learned a ton of new stuff during this final residency. I took a worldbuilding class with NY Times Bestseller Kevin Hearne. He showed us how to make fantasy maps from the earth’s crust up. Timons Esaias also demonstrated the appropriate ways to use various weapons, defend castles, and write about wars. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, but you’d be here all day if I detailed everything I did during this residency.
While this may be the end of my Seton Hill blog, it’s just the beginning of my writing career. I’ve got two stories out for publishing consideration at the moment, and I just helped launch New Pulp Tales. I also plan to continue building this site up with new posts soon. So be sure to check back in, and sign up for my newsletter if you haven’t already.

Before I conclude this blog, I must offer a heartfelt thanks to everyone I interacted with at Seton Hill. My teachers were all amazing. My classmates were all fantastic. I’d re-enroll in Seton Hill and start over tomorrow if I could. If you’ve ever considered trying to hone your writing skills, I can’t say enough good things about what this program will do for you.

Farewell for Now

Jeremiah Dylan Cook

My First Public Reading

I think it’s important to celebrate the milestones. This past Saturday was an extremely eventful one for me as a writer. I delivered my first public reading. The video above captures the full recitation of my tale, Feeding Time, complete with an oddly noisy air-conditioner near the story’s climax.

Overall, it was a great experience, and I am honored that the Ligonier Valley Writers picked my flash fiction work as the winner. While at the event, I also got to meet and listen to the other talented writers who entered the contest. Each story contained its own uniquely fascinating elements.

Finally, I wanted to thank everyone who made the trip out to support me. There are a few people who deserve special mention.  The first two are my father and step-mother, who recorded the video above. The next are two of my Seton Hill writing mentors, Jason Jack Miller and Heidi Ruby Miller, they even brought a very cool Seton Hill alum with them for the fun. Fourth is my fiancée’s best friend who tagged along with all the shenanigans this past weekend. Lastly, my wonderful fiancée herself. She never fails to support, and read, the crazy things I spew out of my brain onto a page.

The End Is Near

The End is NearThese little residency recaps are getting harder to do the farther I get into Seton Hill’s Writing in Popular Fiction Program. All I want to do is tinker with my novel or craft a new short story. Speaking of, I have one that’s been accepted for publication in a small-press magazine. When it’s released, I will be sure to share access to the tale everywhere I can.

My fifth residency in the program is now over. It tore through my life like a tornado. By the end, I was thanking Cthulhu for my survival. Each residency has gone by faster than the last one. If you enter the program, you should prepare for that eventuality with the appropriate time dampening technology. It’s too late for me to salvage this past residency, but it’s not too late for you to salvage your future one.

That said, I managed to retain a few awesome lessons despite the residency’s speed. Most painfully, I learned that you should apply sunscreen when driving from Greensburg to Camp Hill. I arrived home in a sun-soaked delirium with cooked skin. Less painfully, I learned that the New Pulp genre is as cool as Old Pulp, where H.P. Lovecraft rose from. Heidi Ruby Miller taught a great class on the subject. I also learned, from Jason Jack Miller, that Folk remains a pretty great source for the creation of new fiction. On my third day of the Residency, I got a fantastic crash course on sending out novel queries from a real-life publishing agent, Ms. Rachel Ekstrom Courage. Lastly, I received a spookily good lesson on the Five Senses of Dread from Dr. Michael Arnzen. On top of those modules, I got to take part in a variety of workshops with dozens of talented writers of multiple genres. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned that I got to listen to two entertaining and enlightening talks from romance author Beverly Jenkins.

Now, with all that said, I didn’t just occupy my time learning while I attended classes. I also got to convey the lesson I spent the last part of my Teaching Popular Fiction class preparing. Thanks to fellow writer Dana Jackson, I even managed to do so with the inclusion of a YouTube clip I wanted to show (Seton Hill’s technology infrastructure is made for Macs, and I own a PC). My lesson on How to Write a Satisfying Ending came out fine, if a little fast due to my nerves. I still wish I could have delivered the lesson earlier in the residency, but the schedule disagreed with me. Either way, I made it through the class and the week. If I can finish editing one hundred and thirty-six pages and respond to my mentor’s feedback, I will be graduating during my next trip to Seton Hill in January. That’s something I wasn’t even sure would happen at the beginning of 2017. What a difference a year, combined with a huge amount of hard work, makes.

Until Next Time,
-J.D. Cook