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.
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.
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.
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.
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.