In this episode, our third and final Peter Jackson movie review—unless we enter Hobbit territory at some point in the future—we are joined by Tolkien enthusiast Worthy to contemplate the age-old question: Which was better, the book or the movie?
Well, not exactly. But we do explore some major (and minor) differences between Return of the King the novel and the film adaptation, discuss our favorite and least favorite alterations, and decide whether all those endings were really necessary.
RANDOM-ASS THEME: Stealing glasses from restaurants
It’s our last chapter-based episode! Our discussion addresses some old themes in a new light: history as a sequence of interlocking stories (exemplified by the many crossed-out titles in the in-world Lord of the Rings manuscript); and the impossibility of true recovery from some wounds. Besides Frodo’s, we also consider Sam’s recovery following the trauma of the quest and what recovery means for him, especially giving that Frodo will leave him soon.
The lectio divina section is a parable in which three Hobbits respond differently to a question posed by the fourth.
This surprise return to the previous week’s episode—What can we say? We just don’t want to be done!—features an in-depth discussion of Saruman’s death and the circumstances surrounding it, as well as a closer look at Frodo’s persistent pacifism.
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.