Deadline Extended! – Tolkien’s 125th Birthday Giveaway

A very special thank you to those who have taken the time to submit their thoughts about Tolkien for our 125th birthday tribute to the Professor on January 3! We love the submissions we’ve received so far, and we want to make sure we have a chance to hear from more of you! So we are extending the deadline by one week.

That’s right, you now have seven more days to send in your thoughts about Tolkien for our 125th birthday tribute! The new deadline is December 4 at 11:59 p.m. PST – that’s 7:59 a.m. UTC on December 5!

The request is still the same: send us your thoughts by email in 125 words or less, or email us an audio file of 45 seconds or less to theprancingponypodcast (at) gmail (dot) com. We’ll read (or play) as many submissions as we can on our January 3 episode … but whether we read/play yours or not, you’ll be eligible for our drawing for a copy of the newly-released Facsimile First Edition of The Hobbit!

We are also extending the deadline for our other giveaway. Just send a question to Barliman’s Bag before December 4 at 11:59 p.m. PST and you’ll be eligible for a drawing to win a copy of The Art of the Lord of the Rings, by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull.

See details and limitations here. And don’t forget to tune in to our January 3 episode to find out who wins!

Last Chance! – Tolkien’s 125th Birthday Giveaway

There are only five days left to enter our two Tolkien’s 125th Birthday Giveaways!

Send in a question to Barliman’s Bag before November 27 to enter for a chance to win a copy of The Art of the Lord of the Rings, a beautifully-curated collection of Tolkien’s own artwork edited by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull.

Even better, send in your thoughts in 125 words or less on what Tolkien means to you by November 27 for a chance to win a copy of the newly-released Facsimile First Edition of The Hobbit! Send us an email to read, or send us audio to play, and we’ll include your tributes in our January 3 special!

Details and limitations on both drawings, and instructions for audio submissions, are on our website here. There are only five days left, so email theprancingponypodcast (at) gmail (dot) com to enter today!

025 – Watch Your Language

In Chapter 15 of The Silmarillion, Turgon heeds Ulmo’s warning and begins the construction of the hidden city of Gondolin. The truth finally comes out about why the Noldor returned to Beleriand, and Thingol is not pleased. Plus a special announcement about our Tolkien’s 125th Birthday Giveaway, and tips for goodlier speaking from a teenage Tolkien.

Listen to the episode here or on YouTube

Subscribe to the podcast via:

Comments or questions for Barliman’s Bag:

  • Visit us at Facebook or Twitter
  • Comment on this blog post
  • Email theprancingponypodcast (at) gmail (dot) com.

Recommended Reading:

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Silmarillion (Mariner Books, paperback) pp. 125-130, “Of the Noldor in Beleriand”

Tolkien, J. R. R. (Christopher Tolkien, ed.) The War of the Jewels (The History of Middle-earth, Vol. 11) (HarperCollins, paperback)


Turning Point

In my previous essay for the Prancing Pony Ponderings series, I wrote of Frodo’s meeting with the Elves of Gildor Inglorion’s company in the Woody End in Book I of The Lord of the Rings as an initiation into the mythic world, and found in that topic an excuse to count pages and words. This time around, I turn to another transition point later in the story; and not to be outdone by myself, I am not only counting pages, but I have also prepared a line graph. (In my next Prancing Pony Pondering, I intend to use integral calculus to prove that Tom Bombadil is Eru Ilúvatar.¹)

There are approximately 1145 pages in the standard paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings – including appendices, indices and forewords – making the midpoint of the text the chapter encompassing pp. 562-573: Book III, Chapter X, “The Voice of Saruman.” Conveniently, at the top of p. 572, near the end of the chapter, we find this passage:

‘Yes, we must go, and go now,’ said Gandalf. ‘I fear that I must take your gatekeepers from you. But you will manage well enough without them.’

‘Maybe I shall,’ said Treebeard. ‘But I shall miss them. We have become friends in so short a while that I think I must be getting hasty – growing backwards towards youth, perhaps. But there, they are the first new thing under Sun or Moon that I have seen for many a long, long day. I shall not forget them. I have put their names into the Long List. Ents will remember it.

Ents the earthborn, old as mountains,
the wide-walkers, water drinking;
and hungry as hunters, the Hobbit children,
the laughing-folk, the little people,

they shall remain friends as long as leaves are renewed. Fare you well! But if you hear news up in your pleasant land, in the Shire, send me word! You know what I mean: word or sight of the Entwives. Come yourselves if you can!’
     (The Two Towers, p. 572)

Treebeard’s comment about “growing backwards towards youth” implies a turning point in his long life: a turning point which, if it were to be plotted on a graph (and if it were meant to be taken literally, which it’s not, but humor me for a moment) would look something like this:

treebeard-growth-chart-revThis image reminds me immediately of “Freytag’s Pyramid,” the plot structure diagram that haunts the study sessions of middle schoolers everywhere in the English-speaking world. It diagrams the structure of a story as a triangle, with the rising action leading to a climax coming somewhere near the midpoint. The climax is the turning point of the story, a change in the fortunes of the hero(es) that begins the falling action of the rest of the story.

The events of Book III are in fact
the first clarion blasts announcing
the dawning of a new age:
an age in which the forces of good are ascendant.

Now it’s possible to get too caught up in this talk of triangles and midpoints, and it’s most likely a coincidence that Treebeard’s comment about “growing backwards” comes at the midpoint of the text. And in any event, I’m not prepared to say that this is the exact narrative midpoint of the story, even though it happens to be in the middle of the printed volume. But this chapter is a significant turning point for the story. Our heroes have recently emerged victorious from the battle of Helm’s Deep, and Saruman is overthrown, allowing us (and the forces of the West) to turn our attention to the East, to the threat of Sauron.

But the events of Book III have been no small victories, and are in fact the first clarion blasts announcing the dawning of a new age: an age in which the forces of good are ascendant. The fact that Hobbits are “the first new thing under Sun or Moon” that Treebeard has seen for a very long time, and he has entered them into the Long List, is a subtle hint that a new age is beginning.

Earlier in the chapter, we saw Saruman forced to come to terms with the dawning of this new age. When the heroes arrived at Orthanc to parley with Saruman, he dealt with them arrogantly and was promptly put in his place by Gandalf:

‘If you wish to treat with me, while you have a chance, go away, and come back when you are sober! And leave behind these cut-throats and small rag-tag that dangle at your tail! Good day!’ He turned and left the balcony.

‘Come back, Saruman!’ said Gandalf in a commanding voice. To the amazement of the others, Saruman turned again, and as if dragged against his will, he came slowly back to the iron rail, leaning on it, breathing hard. His face was lined and shrunken. His hand clutched his heavy black staff like a claw.

‘I did not give you leave to go,’ said Gandalf sternly. ‘I have not finished. You have become a fool, Saruman, and yet pitiable. You might still have turned away from folly and evil, and have been of service. But you choose to stay and gnaw the ends of your old plots. Stay then! But I warn you, you will not easily come out again. Not unless the dark hands of the East stretch out to take you. Saruman!’ he cried, and his voice grew in power and authority. ‘Behold, I am not Gandalf the Grey, whom you betrayed. I am Gandalf the White, who has returned from death. You have no colour now, and I cast you from the order and from the Council.’

He raised his hand, and spoke slowly in a clear cold voice. ‘Saruman, your staff is broken.’ There was a crack, and the staff split asunder in Saruman’s hand, and the head of it fell down at Gandalf’s feet.
     (The Two Towers, p. 569)

The power dynamic has shifted, with Gandalf emerging as the more powerful Wizard. Saruman’s response indicates this is something for which he was utterly unprepared. Dragged against his will … leaning on the iron rail … breathing hard, clutching his staff – this is the posture of someone who doesn’t understand what is happening, and is furious about it. He isn’t used to being overpowered, or to not being in control.

Sensing his confusion, Gandalf calmly explains what is happening: “‘I am not Gandalf the Grey, whom you betrayed. I am Gandalf the White, who has returned from death.'” Gandalf’s words suggest that the chain reaction leading to the change in our heroes’ fortunes actually began at the moment that seemed the darkest: when he fell at Khazad-dûm. And why not? For it was in returning that Gandalf attained the power he needed to break Saruman and usher in this new age.

Of course, Saruman is broken but not destroyed by this encounter. The next time we see him, he will be lashing out in the most petty way imaginable: by turning the Shire into an industrial dystopia while the heroes’ attention is elsewhere. Humbled, reduced to a shadow of his former self and no longer able to influence the great events of history but only “gnaw the ends of [his] old plots,” he refuses to adapt and instead grasps at any modicum of power he can find. He is still full of hate and anger, but selects as targets the few people left in the world he mistakenly believes to be weaker than himself – a mistake that will ultimately destroy him.

Tolkien’s opinion of progress for its own sake is quite well known (he wasn’t a fan). But he recognized the inevitability and in fact the importance of change, going so far as to depict the desire to resist change as both futile and dangerous. This is the lesson of the Two Lamps (unchanging lights ill-suited for the ever-changing Arda Marred) and one of the many lessons of the Silmarils (which imprisoned the waxing/waning light of the Trees as constant white). But most notably, this is the lesson of the Elves themselves, whose “weakness” Tolkien described in Letter 181 as being “naturally to regret the past and to become unwilling to face change”: a weakness embodied in the Three Elven Rings, whose power was in preservation against the ravages of time.

And The Lord of the Rings is itself a story of change. It tells of the transition from a mythic past when the forces of good and evil did physical battle under the command of supernatural beings, to a modern age where good and evil vie solely in the actions of humans: simple, petty, often weak and stupid but occasionally brilliant and heroic in their way, humans. It’s the turning point at which those supernatural beings (Elves, Wizards, etc.) begin to leave Middle-earth to the dominion of Men. And though exact chronological placement is impossible, it can be roughly defined as a midpoint on the timeline between the Arda of the Elves and the Earth we live in today.

So it’s fitting that a page at the midpoint of the book shows the debut of the Hobbits on the Long List – the recognition of their emergence on the scene by one of the great and ancient supernatural creatures of Arda. After all, Hobbits are in many ways the one of Tolkien’s races most resembling modern humans – or at least modern humans as they should be, with their love for “peace and quiet and good tilled earth.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 1) From this turning point to its denouement at the Scouring of the Shire – and beyond – Tolkien seems to suggest that the most humble and Hobbitlike among us in the modern world will be those to take up the quest of making the Earth the place it should be; while the Sarumans of the world, unable to learn humility, will become weaker and weaker until finally their fell voices become nothing more than sighs on the wind, dissolving into nothing.

¹Not really, but now that I’ve put it out there I really hope someone will try. I promise not to laugh … too hard.

024 – Territories

It’s a small world, after all. Take a trip around the map with Alan and Shawn in Chapter 14 of The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s extensive description of the geography and realms of the Elves in Beleriand. Also, we receive a lesson in Dwarvish pronunciation from a listener and get up close and personal with a personal pronoun. And what’s that voice in the distance? Sounds like a very deep woodwind instrument.

For more information on the Khuzdul language and insights on all things Dwarvish, visit The Dwarrow Scholar ( by listener Roy.

For more insights on Tolkien’s work and his medieval literary and linguistic influences, visit the blog Alas, not me ( by listener Tom H.

Also in this episode, Shawn brings up a poem by Tolkien that cycles through the seasons, but whose title he can’t quite remember. The poem is “The Trees of Kortirion” (a.k.a.”Kortirion among the Trees”) from “The Cottage of Lost Play” in The Book of Lost Tales Part One.

Listen to the episode here or on YouTube

Subscribe to the podcast via:

Comments or questions for Barliman’s Bag:

  • Visit us at Facebook or Twitter
  • Comment on this blog post
  • Email theprancingponypodcast (at) gmail (dot) com.

Recommended Reading:

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Silmarillion (Mariner Books, paperback) pp. 118-124, “Of Beleriand and its Realms”

Tolkien, J. R. R. (Christopher Tolkien, ed.) The Book of Lost Tales Part One (The History of Middle-earth, Vol. 1) (Del Rey, paperback)

Carpenter, Humphrey. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (Houghton Mifflin, paperback)

Tolkien’s 125th Birthday Giveaway!

We are pleased to share a special announcement! On January 3, The Prancing Pony Podcast will be releasing a special episode in honor of Professor Tolkien’s 125th birthday – and just like a good hobbit, we are giving away gifts to celebrate! We’ll be drawing the names of two lucky winners.

The first drawing is really straightforward: anyone who has submitted a question to Barliman’s Bag since the beginning of the podcast – up until the deadline of November 27 – will be eligible. So, if you haven’t sent us a question, get one in to us by November 27 and you’ll be eligible for this drawing. The prize? A copy of The Art of the Lord of the Rings: a beautifully-curated collection of Tolkien’s own artwork edited by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull.

The second drawing is even more fun. In our birthday special, we’ll be raising our glasses to toast the Professor, and we invite you to join us by sending us your thoughts on what Tolkien means to you! You can submit this to us in writing or – here’s where it gets fun – send an audio file for us to play on the show. We’ll try to read or play all submissions, unless we get too many and have to choose. But whether we share yours on the show or not, you’ll be eligible for the drawing: a copy of the newly-released Facsimile First Edition of The Hobbit, your first chance in decades to read the story as it was originally published before Tolkien changed it in 1951.

Whether sending written comments or audio, we ask that you keep your submissions to 125 words or less, in keeping with the theme of 125 years of Tolkien and so we can hear from as many of you as possible. Please make sure to include your name and location at the beginning – for example, “Alan S from California … hoom, hm, hrum”. We may not be able to convert or cut audio files, so please keep them to 45 seconds or less (that’s about how long it takes to read 125 words) and submit them in 96kbps or higher .mp3 format as an email attachment to theprancingponypodcast (at) gmail (dot) com.

Although it pains us to say this, we are but humble podcast hosts, and cannot cover shipping costs of hardcover books to Tol Eressëa or Far Harad. Though anyone can win, we can only ship the books to US addresses. Our apologies.

Please remember that the deadline for both drawings is November 27 at 11:59 p.m. PST – that’s 7:59 a.m. on Nov. 28 UTC – so get your questions to Barliman and your thoughts in honor of the Professor to us before then at theprancingponypodcast (at) gmail (dot) com.