Of Linux, Lisp, Emacs Lisp and Writing a Novel

In I walked into the cubicle of my office which is located on the 10th floor. I logged into my computer and started reviewing a Powerpoint presentation I had made the previous day. I am into a management kind of role for the past two and a half years. Previously I was a mainframe developer, but not by choice though. I was trained in mainframe when I joined the company and I continued to be a developer for three years. I wasn’t into mainframe much and I always thought about switching to a new technology like web development or Linux administration. Back in school and college I learned quite a few programming languages like C, C++, Java, Visual Basic, HTML, Java script, Pearl and so on. After I joined this company I learned a few more languages to work on mainframe like JCL (Job Control Language), REXX and Cobol. Nothing really excited me like the web development languages that I had learnt in school. When I created a simple web page I had a feeling of accomplishment that none other languages gave me. The creator in me liked that. I found particularly Java to be boring and C and C++ were pretty ordinary. But I do have plans to learn C all over again as I don’t remember anything apart from printf and scanf. I always wanted to be a technically strong person, a good techie, and I always wanted to learn stuff like the internal workings of an Operating System and so on. Until the end of 2011, I used only Windows and I never bothered to learn anything. These interests always were at the back of my mind but I did nothing on my part. I needed some motivation and that motivation came in the form of Linux. One lazy Sunday afternoon, as I was lying on my bed, the word Linux came floating into my mind. I got up and googled it. Shortly afterwards I downloaded and installed a Linux distribution called Ubuntu. I really liked it and started using it alongside Windows 7. It took me two more years to ditch Windows completely. The strange thing is Linux kind of brought my interests back to the forefront of my mind. It encouraged the geek in me. Imagine this — you always wanted to learn guitar, but you did absolutely nothing to learn it. But one day you buy a music CD and the guitar piece in that CD inspires you so much that you go out and sign up for learning guitar at a music academy. That’s what happened to me. Linux encouraged and still encourages me to learn stuff. A couple of weeks back I downloaded and installed Emacs. Guess what? Emacs had that same effect on me. I really liked it and on the third day of downloading it I started leaning the Emacs Lisp language (the language that was used to build the Emacs application).

I always searched for a good piece of software for me to write. Apart from all the techie stuff, I love books and I love to write. I want to become a novelist sometime and churn out novel after novel. I am still searching for the perfect application that would satisfy my writing needs. So far Emacs seem to be the application that I need. I am still learning it as it has a bit of a learning curve. When I fired up Emacs for the first time, two weeks ago, I was presented a long tutorial. At first, I felt a bit reluctant to read it and try out the various stuff given. But then I remembered the great Richard Stallman and I didn’t need any other inspiration 🙂

But I am bit confused now. As I googled more and more about Emacs Lisp the more I am getting caught in this desire to learn it and then continue from there and learn the Common Lisp language as the two are closely related. I also did a lot of googling to understand if I should learn Scheme, which is a variant of Lisp, or Lisp itself after I am done with Emacs Lisp. Finally I have settled for Lisp as Lisp seems to be a larger and more complete language than Scheme. But I have to hold my horses though. I was actually in the middle of some writing when I jumped into this Emacs wagon and now Emacs is taking me on a ride. I was actually planning to write a novel, not learn stuff after stuff. So far this is how I have set my priorities:
1. Learn Emacs and Emacs Lisp
2. Get going with the novel and complete the first rough draft within the end of 2015.

I hope I stick to my plan. After completing my novel I would go after Common Lisp. Or maybe I would go after more novels. I don’t know, let me think about it after completing my novel.

The Hobbit: An Analysis

The Hobbit: An Analysis

About six years ago, I read the Hobbit for the first time and was mesmerized by it. It was so well written that I decided that I had to reread it sometime again. I also stopped myself from reading the Lord of the Rings Trilogy as I thought that I had to study the Hobbit deeply first. And that’s exactly what I did three weeks ago; I studied the entire book and took notes. Now I am free to read LOTR!

hobbithouse, shire

Spoiler Alert! The following analysis reveals the whole plot along with its twists and turns. So don’t tell me that I didn’t warn you!

The Hobbit chronicles the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, right from when Gandalf meets him one morning until the passage of one whole year. The stage is set on the very first chapter when Bilbo meets the 13 Dwarves, including Thorin Oakenshield, heir to the treasure under the Mountain that is guarded by the dragon Smaug. Together they cross the treacherous Misty Mountains that is overrun by goblins, pass through the dangerous Mirkwood forest, escape the prisons of the Wood-Elves, and finally reach the Lonely Mountain. How they overcome the dragon and the goblin onslaught towards the end makes for a very interesting twin-climax.

The following is a bird’s-eye view of how this story spans across its 19 chapters. The chapters that I have highlighted are the most important ones and the chapters that I have highlighted with the same colour are closely related to each other.

1 The goal is set, and all the important characters are established

2 Some action: encounter with trolls (adds little to the overall story)

3 Rest and some information to achieve the goal is acquired (nothing very important)

4 Important action that sets the ball rolling for the climax: goblin attack and killing of the

Great Goblin (but the ball rolls in the background; the reader is not aware of the

consequence of this action until the end)

5 Turning point: Discovery of ring

6 The action from the previous chapter escalates which leads us to new characters (The

Eagles) that help the protagonist and his team towards the climax.

7 Rest and intro of new character (Beorn) that helps the main characters at the end

8 An ordeal (trek through forest), attack (spiders), and imprisonment (by wood-elves)

9 Ordeal continues in prison and escape

10 Rest at Lake-town

11 Search to locate the secret door

12 Protagonist acquires important info to defeat antagonist

13 This chapter adds very little to the overall story (Bilbo pockets Arkenstone)

14 The main antagonist is killed, but more trouble follows

15 Buildup to the second climax

16 This chapter adds very little to the overall story (Bilbo tries to stop battle with Arkenstone)

17 The second climax

18 Journey towards home

19 All is well

Based on the events, actions, character introductions, turning point, and the two climaxes, I have created the following graphs that show us the flow of the story.



I arrived at these graphs by assigning points to events, actions, character introductions (which explains the huge spike at the very beginning), turning point, the two climaxes and so on. Not all events and actions get the same points; I have awarded higher points to events and actions that are more important (example: the dwarves and Bilbo escape the wood-elves prison) and fewer points to events and actions that are less important (example: the troll incident which adds very little to the overall story). So what I did understand from all this was that The Hobbit, with its 90,000+ words, contain eight action blocks and 17 events.

To better understand these graphs, the following chapter-wise split-up would help.

Chapter 1:
The stage is set. The protagonist is introduced and he is told his goal – the quest for treasure.
The goal of the novel is established in the very first chapter.
We are also introduced to the most important characters in this chapter.

Chapter 2:

Just a small skirmish that adds little to the story, except for the only fact that the protagonist and his team acquire some weapons which comes in handy later. They also acquire some treasure which is nothing compared to the final goal.

Chapter 3:
A short rest and some intel on acquiring the treasure.

Chapter 4:
A mini battle takes place which sets the ball rolling for the final battle(unknown to the reader at this time).

Chapter 5:
A very important object is acquired by the main character which decides the fate of this whole story. This event changes the hero.

Chapter 6:
The situation is further escalated with more action as the enemies follow-up. But they are repeatedly defeated for a second time and the hero/hero’s team gets a new ally: The Eagles.

Chapter 7:
A short rest and again the team is reinforced with a new ally: Beorn.
But they also lose an important friend temporarily in this chapter: Gandalf.

Chapter 8:
An ordeal and a challenge (spider attack). Most of the team is imprisoned by the Wood-Elves.
Until Chapter 7, the team was going through an adventure. But in this chapter, the adventure turns into an ordeal.

Chapter 9:
The ordeal continues. But the hero hatches a plan to save his team and the plan itself is an ordeal. But it works.

Chapter 10:
A short rest

Chapter 11:
The buildup towards the climax begins from this chapter. They reach the Mountain guarded by the dragon and search for a way in using their map.

Chapter 12:
The hero is sent on a reconnaissance mission. He succeeds and find’s the enemy’s weakest point. The dragon then flies to Lake-town.

Chapter 13:
Adds little to the story except for the fact that Bilbo pockets the Arkenstone, which is very important to Thorin. The plot surrounding this stone is itself not very important and it adds very little to the overall story. Towards the end, Bilbo tries to use this precious stone to stop the battle, but the battle takes place anyway. So the author has used Arkenstone only for two purposes:

1. Thorin, in his deathbed, speaks philosophy: says that the world would be a better place if everyone behaves like hobbits who value food, friends, and music above things like treasure; a moral is conveyed.

2. Bilbo becomes a great friend of wood-elves and Bard because of this stone.
What the Arkenstone really does is that it adds value to the Hero’s character.

Chapter 14:
This is a little flashback into Chapter 12. The dragon after flying to Lake-town had been killed by Bard. The dwarves and Bilbo learn this important piece of news in this chapter.
But trouble brews up for the dwarves as the Elven King sends an army to acquire the treasure.

So chapters 11, 12, 13 and, 14 constitute a mini climax. Until now the readers are made to believe that succeeding the dragon to get the treasure to be the main goal. But now we have a little subplot and we need another climax.

Chapter 15:
The stage is set for a battle between elves and men on one side against the dwarves.

Chapter 16:
The Arkenstone story discussed previously. It adds nothing to the overall story other than enhancing the image of our hero – Bilbo Baggins.

Chapter 17:
This is the climax chapter.
A twist in the tale: just when we think that the battle is about to begin a new common enemy enters. The battle does happen, but the dwarves, men, and elves together fight against the goblins.

Chapter 18:
Our hero’s return journey commences with some rest in the middle.

Chapter 19:
The journey continues and Bilbo reaches the Shire. All is well.

Note: You can also read the above content on my Padlet page which is more clear and better presented.

 I also wrote a more elaborate chapter-by-chapter summary for this book which I couldn’t fit into the narrow confines of this WordPress blog in a way that is best to read. So I relied on Google sites to better present it after experimenting with a few other blogging platforms. You can find it here.

Wikipedia has a fantastic page on the list of characters and their roles in the novel.