#49—“The Forbidden Pool”

#49—“The Forbidden Pool”

Our protagonists are in the Moon country of Ithilien, which becomes clearer in this chapter than ever before. The Moon indeed seems to be playing a vital role, and these paragraphs abound in lunar imagery.

This week we are joined by Rev. Greg Farrand. Greg leads us through his own style of lectio divina as we puzzle through a crucial Gollum passage and let it speak to us. Gollum’s apparently innocent nocturnal fishing expedition reminds us of our own competing hungers, and we find ourselves asking: How do we keep from indulging the wrong hunger and falling to ruin? What happens when we cannot help ourselves?

#48—“The Window on the West”

#48—“The Window on the West”

This chapter makes up for its shortness in plot with its rich philosophical discussion on military force, its responsible use, and what its inherent good might be. Our lectio section in particular asks what is required for the ends of war—or, more generally, of the flexing of military muscle—to justify its means. What are some reasons that we as Americans hold our armed forces in such high regard?

We are joined by special guest Joshua Calton who directs discussion on this topic, exploring some considerable differences between Faramir and Boromir. We also look at Faramir’s peculiar capacity of perception: it frequently seems as though he can see right through people, like a human lie detector.

RANDOM-ASS THEME: Fake news

#47—“Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit”

#47—“Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit”

This chapter offers many (too many?) kinds of plants, and Nathan leads an analysis of the role of heather in this landscape. We also spend some time analyzing the curious phrase “dishevelled dryad loveliness.”

We encounter the Southrons again, notably in the lectio divina segment. Sam has some insights upon seeing a fallen warrior that generate further discussion on the in-world races of Men and the problems that their representations can have for a 21st-century readership. Why are we only able to empathize with the Other after they have died?

RANDOM-ASS THEME: Suntan lotion

#46—“The Black Gate Is Closed”

#46—“The Black Gate Is Closed”

After Frodo, Sam, and Sméagol/Gollum arrive at the gates of Mordor only to find them shut, our lectio section—as though it were inevitable—ropes us back into our on-again, off-again debate on free will.

We also spend a good portion of this episode discussing the Southron men, who are described abundantly in this chapter and have “dark faces” and hail from the sunny South, where oliphaunts roam. We consider these people’s role and (lack of) representation in Tolkien’s world. Where do they and their homeland fall in the scheme of good and evil? Why do we know so little about them—except that they have decided to fight for Mordor—and what does that say about Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings?

RANDOM-ASS THEME: Napoleon

#45—“The Passage of the Marshes”

#45—“The Passage of the Marshes”

We explore the (un)dead landscape in this memento mori chapter. As the three (or four?) characters traverse this eerie and corrupted world, we find ourselves asking to what extent Sméagol/Gollum’s own system of morality has been corrupted by the Ring over the course of time.

The lectio passage asks what it means for a landscape to be irreversibly damaged and disfigured. What hope is there for full recovery, even after the powers of Mordor should fall?

RANDOM-ASS THEME: A.O.L. 1075 hours free

#44—“The Taming of Sméagol”

#44—“The Taming of Sméagol”

The Tolkien Heads make a dramatic return from their summer hiatus by turning what might seem an uneventful chapter into one of the most illuminating and challenging discussions yet! At its center is the question of Sméagol-vs.-Gollum, but we also find ourselves unsure of the difference between ‘lords’ and ‘masters’—and whether this is even important. Etymologies and symbolic analyses abound in this episode.

RANDOM-ASS THEME: Civil disobedience

#43—Interview: Caroline McAlister, John Ronald’s Dragons

#43—Interview: Caroline McAlister, John Ronald’s Dragons

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.

You can learn more about Caroline McAlister and her books at her personal website, carolinemcalisterauthor.com.