This tiny chapter is so full of meaning that the Tolkien Heads manage to have an entire conversation about second-person pronouns! Add to this allusions to Greek mythology (the death of King Ægeus—ships with black sails!) and Norse funerary practices (“heathen” ship burials) and we have quite a lot to discuss.
We deem despair to be one of the key themes of this chapter, and spend some time musing about knowledge—omniscience, even—can actually serve to extinguish hope. We also look at Minas Tirith as an example of an urban settlement almost devoid of plant life, and what that means for the Gondorites and Lord Denethor in particular.
The lectio divina section examines Denethor’s irrational but understandable longing for a world that might once have been possible (did someone say “free will”?) but now can no longer be hoped for.
In a chapter whose epic scope zooms in and out on various participants in this fierce battle, the Tolkien Heads are just trying to keep up. This includes working through some incredibly racist descriptions of the non-white allies of Mordor.
The lectio divina section looks at—what else?—Éowyn’s show-stopping confrontation with the Witch-King, Lord of the Nazgûl, whom we liken to a bully unused to being challenged.
For our discussion centered on the character Ghân-buri-Ghân and the “Wild Men”—or Drúedain, or Woses—we are joined by Colin from the Scandinavian branch of our Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic. Our episode delves into the stereotypes of indigenous peoples—but especially of Indigenous Americans—that are manifested in the portrayal of Ghân and his people. Of particular interest is the relationship between the Drúedain and Gondor, which in a brief but telling scene (which becomes our lectio section) is revealed to be a genocidal one.
Colin’s bio: Colin Gioia Connors is a PhD candidate in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore in the Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research straddles landscape archaeology, Old Norse studies, North American Indigenous cultural repatriation, and digital storytelling. He has published articles in the Journal of Folklore and Education and the Journal of Sustainability Education and contributed chapters to Viking Archaeology in Iceland. He is a documentary film maker and translator. Currently he produces the CrossingNorth podcast at the Department of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle.
More information on the Ojibwe Winter Games can be found at their website.
What burdens do we place on ourselves? Are they always necessary, or do we sometimes wear the metaphorical chainmail around under our clothes just to impress ourselves? In this chapter we discuss, among other things, Denethor’s paradoxical hypervigilance at home and unwillingness to go to war himself—and what might have inspired him to such a position.
This chapter juxtaposes many characters and realms that we are eager to compare and contrast: Gondor/Denethor vs. Rohan/Théoden, foremost, but also Gondor vs. Mordor, as well as Denethor vs. Gandalf. We reflect in particular on the presence of hope and despair in this chapter, and in our lives.
Our discussion in this chapter begins with a deeper analysis of the desires, limitations, and motivations of Éowyn, especially in relation to both Aragorn and her uncle, Théoden. After that, we dive into the topic that occupies most of this episode: the enigmatic Púkel-men.
We are accompanied by Sara, a PhD student in Art History, who puzzles through our lectio divina section on the Púkel-men and Merry’s reaction to them. What was the intended purpose of these humanoid stone monuments? What is the purpose of preserving our own names and stories into posterity?
After contemplating the ambiguous chapter title, we analyze Aragorn’s choice (if a true choice it is) to take the “paths of the Dead.”
Other themes are the tension between Éowyn and Aragorn (and the second-person pronouns they use), the oath-breaker’s “worship” of Sauron in days past that led to their curse, and the solemn ritual that the Dúnedain perform before departing on their mission.
The Tolkien Heads are back in the swing of things as we follow Pippin on a tour of the breathtaking city of Minas Tirith. We break down the meeting between Gandalf and Denethor and discuss the similarities and differences between lordship and stewardship—and their etymologies, of course.
Special guest Charlotte, a PhD student in History, accompanies us as we look at Denethor’s relationship with his two sons, the problematic notions of blood purity in this chapter, and the history of the word book.