This chapter was not poorly named: it is all description of the landscape of Mordor, with comparably little plot movement. From brambles to ravines to volcanic clouds, these paragraphs pour forth rich descriptions of aspects of the not-quite-barren country.
To help us work through this unforgiving terrain, we are thrilled to welcome as our special guest Asja, who is a researcher in biogeography and ecology in Germany. She selected for the lectio divina section the moment where Sam gazes up in wonder at a star shining through the thick clouds of Mordor.
We start our first Book Six episode with a philosophical discussion on Orcish language and the possibility of an Orcish or Mordorean culture, some shocking implications of the etymology of the word screw, and—naturally—a version of Sam’s song from the chapter sung to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme. The lectio divina section takes a closer look at Sam’s moment of temptation.
We finish up Book Five with a discussion of the frankly epic altercation between Gandalf and the ghastly—yet still human!—Messenger. Host Nathan leads a discussion of the “fairy-tale hellscape” in which the action of the book is now set before we dive into our lectiodivina analysis.
This week’s lectio passage takes a look at how our outer ego can suddenly be stripped away when taken by surprise, exposing a confused and panicky animalistic essence underneath. This can be quite unpleasant if you’ve ever bitten down on a tortilla chip the wrong way … but are there social situations where you can use this knowledge to your advantage?
This chapter calls us to consider what effect a generation can have on the world, and of what nature that effect ought to be. How can we best prepare the world for future generations? What can we do today to help those who come after us to fight their own battles, which we will know nothing about?
After we revisit some themes from the previous chapter, we get into the lectio, which compares the eternal possibility that goodness will spring up unexpectedly with the ability of evil to do the same. Do you see it as optimism vs. pessimism, or realism vs. living in the realm of fantasy?
For this episode we are accompanied by special guest Arwen, the Creator and Executive Director over at Middle-earth News! She tells us about the site, which is exactly what you would expect: a comprehensive source on all things LOTR in real time. Check it out!
With Arwen’s assistance we work through this dense chapter, where we find examples of everything from Messianic imagery to a panoply of linguistic registers and ways in which they are abused. But the main attraction is, of course, athelas. I mean, kingsfoil. I mean … well, you get the picture.
We look past the linguistic properties of kingsfoil—scientific name asëa aranion—and get at how exactly it functions in the poignant healing scenes of this chapter, both symbolically and botanically. Arwen lays out some other plants with healing properties that would have been found in every medieval apothecary and helps us reconstruct what some of the other contents of the pedantic herb-master’s cabinet might be.
Oh, and here’s a link to the Middle-earth News article that questions the lows and the highs of Shire pipe-weed.
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.
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.