#67—“The Black Gate Opens”

#67—“The Black Gate Opens”

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 lectio divina 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?

RANDOM-ASS THEME: The “awkward door dance”

#66—“The Last Debate”

#66—“The Last Debate”

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?

RANDOM-ASS THEME: #YOLO

#65—“The Houses of Healing”

#65—“The Houses of Healing”

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.

RANDOM-ASS THEME: Bad breath

#64—“The Pyre of Denethor”

#64—“The Pyre of Denethor”

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.

RANDOM-ASS THEME: Reality television

#58—“Minas Tirith”

#58—“Minas Tirith”

The Tolkien Heads are back in the swing of things as we follow Pippin on a tour of the breathtaking city of Minas Tirith. We break down the meeting between Gandalf and Denethor and discuss the similarities and differences between lordship and stewardship—and their etymologies, of course.

Special guest Charlotte, a PhD student in History, accompanies us as we look at Denethor’s relationship with his two sons, the problematic notions of blood purity in this chapter, and the history of the word book.

RANDOM-ASS THEME: The Apollonian and Dionysian drives

#57—Interview: Markus Davidsen, Fiction-Based Religions Researcher

#57—Interview: Markus Davidsen, Fiction-Based Religions Researcher

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.

#56—Movie Review: The Two Towers

#56—Movie Review: The Two Towers

We watched Peter Jackson’s Two Towers (2002) … and we have some thoughts!

Our goal with this “review” is not to identify all the differences between the book and the film, which has been done plenty of times already by more diligent note-takers than ourselves. Rather, in this special episode we focus on some particular themes of the Two Towers book and film, including

  • Sam’s purported simplicity (as characterized by Tolkien himself), and whether this is fair;
  • Gríma and his super-creepy movie scene with Éowyn, and the interesting source of some of his poetic dialogue;
  • the age-disparate celebrity couple Ara-wen and the might-have-been celebrity couple Éo-gorn;
  • and Rich’s unshakable suspicion that Gandalf the Grey and Gandalf the White are two different people.

RANDOM-ASS THEME: Anti-vaxxers