“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
It’s incredible how much ten short words can do, isn’t it? These were the first ten words I ever read by J.R.R. Tolkien, and they changed my life in several ways: by introducing me to my favorite author, by rekindling a dormant love for linguistics, and by starting me on a road that would eventually lead me (many years down the road) to a makeshift recording booth in my closet, where I have the pleasure of co-hosting a podcast that has brought me in touch with similarly minded Tolkien lovers all over the world.
I suspect many of you reading this had your first entry into Tolkien’s world through these ten words as well. Continue reading
Shawn says it’s my turn to write a Prancing Pony Pondering this week, but instead of giving you 20 pages of my ramblings, I’m actually going to take this opportunity to update all of you on what’s been happening here at The Prancing Pony Podcast and — more exciting, I’m sure — what will be happening over the coming months. Please be sure to comment, or ask questions that you may have, in the comments below.
Where We’ve Been
Just a bit over six months ago, I wrote our ‘birthday’ post, celebrating the one-year anniversary of The Prancing Pony Podcast. At that time, we talked about a few of the plans we had for the PPP in its second year. Specifically, we had five exciting things to share, so it’s time for a report card!
As observed by Verlyn Flieger in the first chapter of her book Splintered Light,1 the contrast between opposites is a key feature of Tolkien’s work that defines his fantasy world. Many characters and concepts in the legendarium can be better understood by reference to their opposites. The darkness of Ungoliant, for example, is described as an “Unlight” with a physical presence as palpable as the light of the Trees that she consumed. (The Silmarillion, p. 76) The mortality of Men is best understood as not the immortality of Elves: their release from the Circles of the World spares them from the sorrow the Quendi experience with the slow fading of “serial longevity”. On the topic of how good and evil define one another, Olga Polomoshnova has done an excellent study of this recently on her blog Middle-earth Reflections in the essay “Melkor and Manwë: like night and day”, and my co-host Alan touched on the subject in his most recent Prancing Pony Pondering on “The Sins of Melkor… and that one guy” by pointing out how Tolkien’s heroes embody the reverse of Melkor’s worst attributes.
The point of all this is clear: if we want to understand a concept or character in Tolkien’s work, a better understanding of its opposite is critical. Continue reading
When Shawn and I recorded our fifth episode of the podcast on the Ainulindalë, we couldn’t have predicted that we’d still be around over a year later — let alone that we’d have so many listeners enjoying our efforts.1 But there was something else we couldn’t predict then, either — that “The Sins of Melkor” that I talked about in that episode would end up being so universally applicable to other characters in the legendarium. It was only as we were preparing to put The Silmarillion on a boat in the Grey Havens and wave goodbye to it for our upcoming retrospective episode that I realized just how pervasive those errors are — not only for the genuinely evil characters, but also for the mostly-evil, the sometimes-a-jerk, and even the occasionally-foolish. Continue reading
It’s been three weeks since Alan and I finished our trilogy of episodes on the story of Túrin Turambar in The Silmarillion, and no one is looking forward to Tuor showing up on the podcast more than I am. But before we say farewell to the son of Húrin, I still wish to explore the idea of Túrin as a tragic hero, as I promised to do at the end of our epic-length episode 039 – Exit the Warrior.
I have to say that Alan did such an excellent job with his last Prancing Pony Pondering examining Túrin’s free will and fate as defined in the philosophy of Boethius, that I think we have enough to close the book on Túrin’s case: his responsibility for his own misdeeds, and the verdict that Morgoth’s Curse — though real and powerful — does not overcome Túrin’s free will, has been well established by my co-host. But I’d like to add some additional insight to that discussion that satisfies my desire for a literary explanation of Túrin’s responsibility, in addition to the philosophical one; and I’d still like to investigate the question of just why Professor Tolkien saw fit to present such a tale of grief in the first place. Continue reading
Yes, I referenced both Bob Dylan and Rush in the title of this essay. Fair warning: that may very well be the essay’s high point. After all, philosophers have been debating—without a certain answer—the nature of free will for centuries, and I’m unlikely to solve it here. (Spoiler alert: I don’t really try.) But it’s such a fascinating subject in the context of Professor Tolkien’s legendarium—and, especially, in the life of Túrin Turambar—that I cannot help but offer my thoughts on the matter.1
If you’ve been listening to the podcasts, you know that Shawn and I have recently released our Túrin Turambar trilogy of episodes. In the course of preparing for those recordings, I wanted to explore the way that Tolkien addressed the apparent paradox between the way he presents ‘fate’ and the exercise of free will — both among Men in general, and in Túrin in particular. Continue reading
In an early Prancing Pony Ponderings essay, I made brief mention of the following passage in The Hobbit …
‘Hmmm! it smells like elves!’ thought Bilbo, and he looked up at the stars. They were burning bright and blue.
(The Hobbit, p. 45)
… and quickly skipped past the questionable implications of “elf-smell.” And they are indeed questionable, in a way I felt completely unprepared to address back in October, when the Prancing Pony Ponderings segment of our website was still so new. It seemed too absurd, too indulgent, to tackle the question all those months ago when I was a younger, less wise man.
Oh, how times have changed. Continue reading
I’ve probably admitted to this on the podcast at some point; if not, let this serve as my confession. Way back when I first started reading Tolkien as a teenager, I… uh… I often used to skip—or, at best, merely skim—the passages of verse.
Maybe this was my instinctual reaction to poetry as an uneducated youth; perhaps it was just my impatient teenage self anxious to just get on with the story. I don’t know; I can hardly remember those years anymore! In point of fact, it probably has something to do with my more prosy nature — though, like Mr. Baggins, I’m not quite as prosy as I like to believe.
As you’ll soon hear in our special Tolkien Reading Day episode next week, I’ve come a long way since then. And so, as we look forward to this year’s Reading Day theme of “Poetry and Songs in Tolkien’s Fiction,” I thought it would be a good opportunity to take an extended look at one of the repeating verses found in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Continue reading
If you’ve listened to the podcast enough, you’ve probably heard Alan and I make the bold claim that J. R. R. Tolkien never, ever made an accidental word choice in his writing. Every single word was chosen quite deliberately, we like to believe, and so there’s no shame in delving deep into every single word choice to determine exactly what was in the Professor’s head at the moment of writing. Of course, while we can’t know for sure, this is likely an exaggeration — surely even Tolkien occasionally chose words “just because” — but we’ll never know for sure, and we’ll keep on saying it. One thing that we do know for sure is that Tolkien understood words, and the history of words, well enough to know which one was right for his intended purpose; and that if he wanted to, he could use their histories and multiple shades of meaning to great effect.
One of our favorite words to delve into is doom. Continue reading
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! Continue reading