033 – The Princess Bride

The last of three episodes on The Silmarillion Chapter 19, “Of Beren and Lúthien.” After putting the Dark Lord down for a nap, the lovers succeed in prying a Silmaril from Morgoth’s iron crown. Beren needs a helping hand to escape from Carcharoth, and Thingol figures out entirely on his own something everyone around him already knew. Our favorite hound meets his doom, and Lúthien is offered a profound choice about the future. We wrap up by discussing the way this romance impacts the rest of Tolkien’s legendarium, and shamelessly crack left-handed jokes.

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. 179-187, “Of Beren and Lúthien”

Tolkien, J. R. R. (Christopher Tolkien, ed.) The Lays of Beleriand (The History of Middle-earth, Vol. 3) (Del Rey, paperback)

Tolkien, J. R. R. (Christopher Tolkien, ed.) Beren and Lúthien (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, hardcover)

I Don’t Know Half Of You Half As Well As I Should Like…

I shall not keep you long — I have called you all together for a Purpose. Indeed, for Three Purposes!  First of all, to tell you that I am immensely fond of you all, and that one year is too short a time to podcast among such excellent and admirable listeners!

Secondly, to celebrate OUR birthday.

That’s right, I’m taking a break from my usual in-depth analysis of various themes and topics in Tolkien’s works today because…  well, because we’ve a birthday to celebrate! On February 21, 2016, the first episode of The Prancing Pony Podcast was released and I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been a part of making the PPP what is is!

Please note: some of this will be a repeat of what Shawn and I talked about during our FB Live appearance today, but I know not everyone follows us on social media (though you should!) and I wanted a more permanent written record of my appreciation to exist here on the interwebs, as they say.

We think you’ll find some of the plans
we have for The Prancing Pony Podcast
as we enter our second year very exciting!


First, I want to thank J.R.R. Tolkien for the incredible world that he created and for sharing it with all of us. He strove to create an ‘inner consistency of reality’ and he achieved it in a way that no other author has since. As I mentioned during our January 3 birthday toast to the Professor, whenever I read about Middle-earth, I am instantly transported to an incredibly-real, truly believable place. My intellect knows no such place exists — or ever existed — but my heart knows otherwise: these characters, cultures, places, languages, and events are as real as anything I have actually experienced.

Second, I want to thank Christopher Tolkien, whose lifetime dedication to his father’s works has given us so much more than we would otherwise have. Without Christopher’s efforts, there would be no Silmarillion, no Unfinished Tales, no History of Middle-earth series, no Children of Húrin, no Beren and Lúthien, no Letters, and more. The world his father created is much richer for us because of his tireless efforts.

Next, I want to thank all the Tolkien biographers and scholars whose incredible works we’ve benefitted from as we study the life of Professor Tolkien and his legendarium. I’m sure I’ll miss mentioning someone, but names like Humphrey Carpenter, John Garth, Tom Shippey, Verlyn Flieger, Douglas A. Anderson, John Rateliff, Wayne Hammond, Christina Scull, Dimitra Fimi, Andrew Higgins and Corey Olsen all come to mind.

And while we don’t often talk about the films, I also want to thank those involved in the making of The Lord of the Rings movies — after all, their efforts have brought countless new readers into Tolkien’s world and revitalized global interest in Middle-earth. Though I sometimes criticize their choices, I’m grateful for the work of Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and the incredible cast and crew of those first three movies. And a special thanks to Howard Shore whose beautiful music inspires me nearly every day.

Perhaps most importantly, I also want to express my deepest appreciation to my wife and our children, as they have consistently given me the time and opportunity to pursue this passion. Their encouragement and love are invaluable and I am constantly amazed at how much they sacrifice for me. Without their support, this podcast literally does. not. happen.

And how could this list be complete without the Éomer to my Aragorn, the real-life Lord of the Mark, my friend and co-host, Shawn Marchese. When I first had the idea for this podcast, his was the only name who came to mind — for good reason, too: knowledgeable, clever, insightful and funny. Little did I know that, a year later, we’d not only still be going strong, but we’d be looking forward to many more years of Tolkien podcasting to come! And a special thanks to his family as well — I’m sure I’ve tested their patience with my demands on his time, but I’m grateful they allow him to join me here on The Prancing Pony Podcast.

Last, but most certainly not least, I want to thank each and every one of you — after all, it is you — our listeners — that have made The Prancing Pony Podcast the success that it is. When we first started this endeavor, we were pleased that a few of you listened — One Gross, if I may use the expression. And now so many more have joined us on this journey — thank you very much for coming to our little party.

Thirdly, and finally, I wish to make an ANNOUNCEMENT.

No, we’re not going anywhere. Granted, we may not make it to eleventy-one years (or even thirty-three!), but we’ve got plenty more to talk about! What we do want to announce, though, are some of the plans we have for The Prancing Pony Podcast as we enter our second year — we think you’ll find these very exciting!

First, we are scheduled to finish The Silmarillion in July and we are planning to have a few special episodes immediately following: interviews, hopefully, and some film discussion. We’ve reached out to some reasonably big names in the Tolkien community and we hope to have some good ones set up for you soon!

Second, that means we’ll be starting The Hobbit sometime this fall — in September or October, I’d guess. We’re hoping this means that many more people will be joining us as The Hobbit might be a bit more… accessible… than The Silmarillion. So be sure to share us on social media, in Tolkien forums, Reddit, LotRO, or wherever else you find fellow Tolkien readers! (And don’t forget to give us a review on iTunes, even if you listen to us elsewhere — it really helps us out!)

Third, we’re looking into ways to give listeners a chance to join us more often — more FB Live events (we hope) and also the opportunity to Skype with us during an episode recording or a special event!

Fourth, we promise to bring more Tolkien Fun Facts to you, along with listener-contributed comments like we did for our Tolkien tribute episode. We’re also looking into ways to do more prize giveaways!

Fifth, and finally, we’ve heard from more than a few of you that you might be interested in some Prancing Pony Podcast gear: t-shirts, hats, stickers, mugs, shot glasses, and other ‘good stuff’, as the saying goes. Well, we are looking into that right now and hope to have news for you on that front shortly.

This is the END. I am going. I am leaving NOW. GOOD-BYE!

032 – Lady and the Tramp

The second of three episodes on The Silmarillion Chapter 19, “Of Beren and Lúthien.” Man’s best friend has a soft spot for Elf-maidens too, as Huan the hound of Valinor befriends Lúthien and assists in her quest to fetch Beren from the dungeons of Sauron. We find two sons of Fëanor off their leash, bury the bones of a beloved Elf-king, and dig up some of Tolkien’s essays and letters to determine the difference between wolves, wargs, and werewolves. As it turns out, not all dogs come from heaven.

Also, the long-anticipated explanation:


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. 170-179, “Of Beren and Lúthien”

Tolkien, J. R. R. (Christopher Tolkien, ed.) The Lays of Beleriand (The History of Middle-earth, Vol. 3) (Del Rey, paperback)

Tolkien, J. R. R. (Christopher Tolkien, ed.) Beren and Lúthien (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, hardcover)

Tolkien, J. R. R. (Christopher Tolkien, ed.) The Treason of Isengard (The History of Middle-earth, Vol. 7) (Houghton Mifflin, paperback)


Anyone who’s read even the first few pages of The Lord of the Rings is familiar with the “found manuscript” concept at the heart of Tolkien’s mythology: the idea that the books of the Middle-earth legendarium were not inventions, but translations of the Red Book of Westmarch, penned by the Hobbits of the stories themselves.  It’s easy to see why this concept would be attractive to Tolkien. The claim, however tongue-in-cheek, that his stories were miraculously preserved firsthand accounts of prehistoric events — not just the flights of fancy of some bloke who taught Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College — lent his work a mysterious air of historicity like that of the most beloved real-world myths, from the Trojan War to the Arthurian cycle. In addition, setting his stories in the distant past of our primary world helped Tolkien in his effort to make “a Secondary World which your mind can enter,” (“On Fairy-Stories,” Tree and Leaf, p. 37) a story which the reader can remain inside as long as they choose to.

But it seems very likely that Tolkien believed his stories truly did come from somewhere beyond himself.  In several of his letters, Tolkien is careful to distinguish his artistic process from mere invention (below are just a few examples):

  • In a 1956 draft letter to an unidentified “Mr Thompson” — “I have long ceased to invent (though even patronizing or sneering critics on the side praise my ‘invention’): I wait till I seem to know what really happened.  Or till it writes itself.” (Letters, p. 231)
  • In the 1951 letter to Milton Waldman (the letter Alan and I have cited on the podcast so often that we’ve both begun to quote it in our sleep, to the chagrin and terror of our wives) — “… always I had the sense of recording what was already ‘there’ somewhere: not of ‘inventing’.”  (Letters, p. 145)
  • In a 1954 letter to Peter Hastings — “… it seems to have grown out of hand, so that parts seem (to me) rather revealed through me than by me …” (Letters, p. 189)

Perhaps it’s essential to Tolkien’s view of his own work as a “sub-creation” — a well-intentioned but imperfect imitation of the creation of the universe by a divine creator — that he considered its ultimate origin to be beyond himself. The idea of a divine inspiration for a literary work is one nearly as old as literature itself (a fact revealed in the word’s etymology, from Latin inspirare, “to breathe into,” as in a story breathed into a poet’s mind from beyond). From Homer to Milton’s Paradise Lost, divine inspiration is held to be the source of many great epics. But much closer to home for Tolkien, though, it is cited by a venerable medieval English historian as the origin of the oldest extant poem in Old English, Cædmon’s Hymn.

At the moment when Frodo and Sam’s
road is darkest, the idea “was put into” Tolkien
to insert a reference to
the earliest inspiration for his mythology.

As recorded by Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Cædmon was an illiterate herdsman to whom a hymn of creation was revealed in a dream:

When he there at a suitable time set his limbs at rest and fell asleep, then some man stood by him in his dream and hailed and greeted him and addressed him by his name: ‘Cædmon, sing me something.’ Then he answered and said: ‘I do not know how to sing and for that reason I went out from this feast and went hither, because I did not know how to sing at all.’ Again he said, he who was speaking with him: ‘Nevertheless, you must sing.’ Then he said: ‘What must I sing?’ Said he: ‘Sing to me of the first Creation.’ When he received this answer, then he began immediately to sing in praise of God the Creator verses and words which he had never heard …
     (Eccelesiastical History of the English People, Book IV, Chapter XXIV)

Tolkien’s characters occasionally receive this kind of inspiration in the form of words they’ve never heard before, notably when some kind of divine intervention seems to be at work. In our recent podcast 031 – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Alan and I discuss how “it seemed to [Beren] that words were put into his mouth” (The Silmarillion, p. 166), telling him what to say as he stood before Thingol and Melian. But an even clearer echo of Bede’s story of Cædmon can be found in The Lord of the Rings, in the chapter “Shelob’s Lair”:

Slowly [Frodo’s] hand went to his bosom, and slowly he held aloft the Phial of Galadriel. For a moment it glimmered, faint as a rising star struggling in heavy earthward mists, and then as its power waxed, and hope grew in Frodo’s mind, it began to burn, and kindled to a silver flame, a minute heart of dazzling light, as though Eärendil had himself come down from the high sunset paths with the last Silmaril upon his brow. The darkness receded from it, until it seemed to shine in the centre of a globe of airy crystal, and the hand that held it sparkled with white fire.

Frodo gazed in wonder at this marvellous gift that he had so long carried, not guessing its full worth and potency. Seldom had he remembered it on the road, until they came to Morgul Vale, and never had he used it for fear of its revealing light. Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima! he cried, and knew not what he had spoken; for it seemed that another voice spoke through his, clear, untroubled by the foul air of the pit.
     (The Two Towers, p. 704)

The Quenya words that Frodo had never heard (before speaking them) translate to “Hail, Eärendil, brightest of stars.” This is a nearly exact translation of “Éalá Éarendel engla beorhtast” (“Hail, Earendel, brightest of angels”), the line of Old English poetry from Cynewulf’s Crist that inspired Tolkien to start writing “The Voyage of Eärendel the Evening Star” in 1914 — by all appearances, the first sub-creation in what would eventually become the Middle-earth legendarium. It seems that here, at the moment when Frodo and Sam’s road is darkest, the idea “was put into” Tolkien to insert a reference to the earliest inspiration for his mythology.

Why here, I wonder? Why such a literal reference to his own sub-creative process, to show Frodo actually inspired by what’s essentially the same line of poetry that inspired Tolkien? Of course, Eärendil stands throughout the legendarium as “a sign of hope to men” (Letters, p. 385), the Gil-Estel (“Star of Hope”) of the Númenóreans; and hope is something Frodo and Sam need right now. This is the darkest their road has been, the most hopeless — in some ways, the most hopeless their quest will ever be, except at the Cracks of Doom — and hope is inspired or “breathed into” Frodo through the invocation to awaken the light, now at this critical point. But I believe there’s another reason as well.

Eärendil is the shining (forgive the pun, but absolutely intended!) example in the Middle-earth legendarium of the traveler to Faërie, that rare individual with the ability to cross over into “the Perilous Realm itself” and transmit some message for mere mortals who cannot: a plea to the Faërie-race (as in Eärendil’s case) for some boon to be brought back to those of us bound to the mortal shores of the middle-earth. The boon brought back is necessarily an imperfect imitation, a poor substitute for the direct experience of the Faërie realm; so the traveler to Faërie is inherently a sub-creator himself. Tolkien’s non-legendarium story Smith of Wootton Major is a wonderful expression of this concept, which I’d love to explore in another Prancing Pony Pondering … someday.

For now, I’ll content myself with the assertion that the role of the sub-creator (Eärendil, Tolkien) is as a messenger, to bring back these imitations, imperfect as they may be. These “glimpses” of Faërie are all that many of us can get (paraphrasing a sentiment in Smith), because the land of Faërie is too perilous for most mortals to tread. The glimpses he brings back to mortals inspire us with tales of hope (see also: recovery, escape, and consolation!) but also point the way back to Faërie: a guiding light for those few who are worthy to follow on that perilous road.

And there will always be others. So while Eärendil may be the best example of the traveler to Faërie in Middle-earth, he is not the only one. Here in Book IV of The Lord of the Rings, we see him light the way for the latest such travelers. Indeed, Frodo and Sam are following in Eärendil’s footsteps, in a way: the sacrifice, the acceptance of the quest no one else will take, the path too perilous for most; even though their path takes them east before it takes them west. So I find it fascinating that the figure of Eärendel lit the way for Tolkien himself to enter into the Faërie world of his own sub-creation in 1914. For all three of them, Eärendil/Eärendel guides them on their way to become part of the same overarching myth.

Where would any of them — Frodo, Sam, Tolkien — be without that light to guide them on their path, without that inspiration?  Sam knows the answer. He’s already figured out what happens to those who don’t follow the light, who turn back from the perilous road:

‘… with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually — their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on – and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end.’
     (The Two Towers, p. 696)

I don’t believe anyone reading The Lord of the Rings can imagine Frodo or Sam ever turning back and abandoning the quest (except maybe certain scriptwriters), but at the dark point in Shelob’s Lair it certainly seems that they might be defeated and forgotten, with no one ever to tell their story. It is their continuing on, with the aid of the light of Eärendil the Star of Hope, that allows them to go on. To complete their quest. To become part of the story.

But only a part, as Sam well knows:

‘… and the Silmaril went on and came to Eärendil. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve got — you’ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?’
     (The Two Towers, pp. 696-697)

No, Sam. They never do. And that, too, helps us believe.