The Hobbits return from their world-changing adventure to a home that is home no longer. While we have had our eye on the geopolitics of Middle-Earth writ large, strange things have been afoot in the Shire at the hands of “ruffians” and their mysterious leader, and we are afforded a view of the Hobbit-country as an industrialized wasteland.
Much of our discussion in this chapter focuses on the subjectivity of historiography. How do we know to trust the historical accounts that are passed down to us? Even the Red Book of Westmarch itself?
This episode—a favorite of Simon and Garfunkel fans—features an insightful lectio divina discussion on trauma, both physical and psychological (“knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden”), as we ponder Frodo’s possibly-not-rhetorical question, “Where shall I find rest?” which is ultimately unanswered by Gandalf.
The rest of the episode, like the chapter, largely concerns Barliman Butterbur and his questionable statements about the current political situation of Bree. Is Butterbur expressing genuine concern for his safety, or just xenophobia (or a mix of both)?
In this chapter, in many ways a counterpart to “Many Meetings” (Bk. 2, Ch. 1), we encounter various manifestations of the inevitability of moving on … before the discussion devolves into a surprisingly insightful reflection on the various interrelated systems of government in Gondor and Middle-Earth.
Our lectio divina section is a vignette of four shadowy figures sitting across from each other—a metaphor for The Tolkien Heads, perhaps—contemplating past, present, and future.
This chapter abounds in pervasive uncertainty, biblical symbolism, and some creepy (in the opinion of this Head) romantic advances on the part of the eponymous Steward.
Our lectio divina section contemplates the transition from the Third to the Fourth Age, and what that means for Gandalf and the Elves. We ask ourselves whether the Fourth Age isn’t a kind of anthropocene.
Laudatory, pathetic, elegy, eulogy, panegyric, ethos … the Tolkien Heads appear to have stumbled into an SAT-prep course! We learn a lot about the different kinds of acknowledgements and respects that are being paid to the quartet of Hobbits who, having been plucked from the edge of destruction, are now suddenly the center of more attention than they would probably like.
The lectio passage this week is Sam and Gandalf’s curious exchange on what the Hobbits are supposed to wear as they plan on meeting the King of Gondor and Lord of the Western Lands.
Finally, Mount Doom! You can practically hear the bubbling and frothing of lava out of rocky fissures in the distance as we spend a disproportionate fraction of this episode debating whether Mount Doom is a true volcano—and, if so, what kind of volcano it is.
The lectio divina section looks at Sam’s split-second decision not to kill Gollum … and what this means for Gollum, for the story of the Ring, and for Sam.
You can find more information on Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle-Earth, referred to in the episode, here.
This chapter was not poorly named: it is all description of the landscape of Mordor, with comparably little plot movement. From brambles to ravines to volcanic clouds, these paragraphs pour forth rich descriptions of aspects of the not-quite-barren country.
To help us work through this unforgiving terrain, we are thrilled to welcome as our special guest Asja, who is a researcher in biogeography and ecology in Germany. She selected for the lectio divina section the moment where Sam gazes up in wonder at a star shining through the thick clouds of Mordor.