In this fascinating special episode we interview Markus Davidsen, whose PhD research is centered on religious traditions based in fictional works such as Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. We discuss what the practices and origins of Jedi- and Elf-identifying groups are, what aspects of them typically draw in new practitioners, and to what extent practitioners consider these religions or spiritual paths to be integral in their lives. Markus even shares with us his experience on a Skype-facilitated shamanic journey to the Blessed Realm.
Click here to go to Markus’s site where you can find more information on his latest works.
Join us for a great conversation with Luke Shelton, an academic doing his doctoral research on the reception of J. R. R. Tolkien’s works—and also the films and video games they have inspired—among children and young adults. We interview Luke on his findings and he shares some fascinating insights with us.
Of course, we also run through our usual lectio divina method, focusing on a passage concerning some proverbial wisdom in The Lord of the Rings. (“Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.”) We also explore the question of the in-world intended audience for Frodo’s text.
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.
In this special episode we interview Dr. Walter Judd, professor emeritus of botany at the University of Florida and co-author of Flora of Middle-Earth: Plants of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Legendarium. While this book serves as centerpiece to our discussion (after we learn what exactly a flora is), we also talk about the phenomenon of plant blindness and work through our guest’s favorite passage from The Lord of the Rings. Finally, Prof. Judd gives some pointers for those interested in learning more about their own local flora.
You can learn more about the Flora of Middle-Earth at its OUP site.
This special episode features the Dwarrow Scholar, an expert on all things Dwarvish. We discuss Tolkien’s Dwarves—their culture, their history, and their language—as well as the similar creatures of Germanic myth upon which the Middle-Earth race is based.
The Dwarrow Scholar also walks us through some of the innovations and expansions he has made on Tolkien’s Dwarvish language, Khuzdûl. Information on Neo-Khuzdûl and many related matters can be found on his website, www.dwarrowscholar.com.
Further Dwarrow Reading
… on Germanic mythology in general:
Deutsche Mythologie (Teutonic Mythologie), Jakob Grimm, trans. Stallybrass—a treatise on Germanic mythology.
The Poetic Edda: The Mythological Poems, trans. Bellows—Völuspá compresses the whole of the Norse vision of the universe’s history and future into its 60-odd short stanzas. It is narrated by a seeress, or völva, who is requested by Odin to share her memories and prophecies with humankind, “Heimdall’s young.”
It is generally thought to have been a minstrel poem that was passed down through the centuries by word of mouth. The catalog of the Dwarves that begins in the 10th stanza is an important source of names for the Dwarf characters in Tolkien’s works.
The Dwarrow Scholar personally recommends the 1908 edition by Olive Bray, as it has extensive notes and a very detailed and valuable introduction (especially for people new to the Edda, well worth the read).
It is worth noting, though, that the 1986 translation by Lee M. Hollander comes closer to conveying the full extent of the grandeur and nuance (both aesthetic and philosophical) of the Old Norse texts.
The Viking Spirit: An Introduction to Norse Mythology and Religion, Daniel McCoy—written to a scholarly audience, but in a simple, clear, and entertaining style.
Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, H. R. Ellis Davidson—she was one of the twentieth century’s foremost scholars of Norse mythology, yet most of her works were written for a general audience rather than her fellow academics. This is her most accessible work, and is ideal for beginners who want a scholarly take on Norse religion.
… on Tolkien’s Dwarves:
The Hobbit and Tolkien’s Mythology: Essays on Revisions and Influences, ed. Bradford Lee Eden
“Dwarfs in Germanic Literature: Deutsche Mythologie or Grimm’s Myths?” Paul Battles, in The Shadow Walkers: Jacob Grimm’s Mythology of the Monstrous, ed. Tom Shippey
“Explorations into the Psyche of Dwarves,” David Funk, in Proceedings from the J. R. R. Tolkien Centenary Conference
Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. Christopher Tolkien—“The Quest of Erebor” sheds a somewhat new Dwarvish perspective on The Hobbit that should not be missed.