In this special episode we talk to Caroline McAlister, professor of English at Guilford College and author of John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J. R. R. Tolkien, a children’s book that imagines a young Tolkien exploring his interests in trees, horses, strange-sounding words, “but most of all … dragons.” Caroline explains her thoughts on reading during childhood—both fiction and non-fiction—and her own reasons for writing about a young Tolkien.
Besides her book itself, we also talk discuss what it is like to teach a college-level English course, and how to incorporate Tolkien’s works into the curriculum.
It finally happened: The Tolkien Heads traveled all the way to Milwaukee to meet with Bill Fliss, the archivist at Marquette University’s Special Collections whose purview includes the J. R. R. Tolkien Collection, a veritable smial of Tolkien’s original manuscripts, sketches, and other fantastic mathoms.
In our interview, Bill told us all about what sort of things are held in the collection, what advancements are on the horizon for management of the archive, and what the public is able to see. Bill gave us some fascinating insights into the light that the collection sheds on the genesis and evolution of Tolkien’s ideas, and we learned a lot about what changes were made to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings before and after publication.
Of course, we also talked about Bill’s favorite Tolkien passages, and attempted to answer the question of whether an archive belongs high in a tower or deep in the earth.
We made it through Book Three! Join us as we recollect and reminisce on what has happened to some (but not all!) of the book’s main characters in the first half of The Two Towers.
We are joined today, though not for the first time, by The Dwarrow Scholar. After going through a quick summary of the chapters of Book Three, we go into a larger discussion of some themes and passages that the five of us have individually selected.
We close Book Three with apocalyptic visions through a crystal ball. (Or is it an orb?) We discuss addiction to technology—or perhaps to possessing greater and greater knowledge. Host Nathan tells us more about the hawthorn plant than a palantír ever could.
The Tolkien Heads once again have smartphones on the chopping block, as we examine the close connection between how they work with the palantír we encounter in this chapter—even though the word “palantír” bears a striking etymological resemblance to a different English word …
The ultimate Saruman chapter. Perhaps we are just falling victim to the notorious spell of Saruman’s melodious baritone, but we can’t help but feel some pity for the Many-Coloured wizard at this point. Do you feel the same way?
Much of our discussion this week focuses on pride, humility, and being able to accept help when you need it.
In this chapter we learn what happened—retold by Merry and Pippin—at the Battle of Isengard. We explore the Huorns a bit further: their nature, their origin, and what makes them so damn angry.
Our lectio section focuses on the two very different ways Men and Orcs were dealt with in the aftermath of the battle. Join us as we attempt to read this riddle and, once again, figure out once and for all exactly how human Orcs are.
Our discussion for this chapter hinges on the fate of Isengard. What has happened to this once proud center of learning and good counsel? Is it all a metaphor for industrialization? If so, what does the text suggest as a viable alternative to industrialization?
The lectio section asks this question a little differently: What was it that led Saruman to betray his friends and give in to the power of Mordor (even if he saw himself as a rival to Mordor)?