Pity and Fear: the Tragic Tale of Túrin

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

Túrin: “Simple Twist of Fate”, or “Freewill”

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

Smells Like Elf Spirit

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

The Road

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

Doom, doom, doom.

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 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! Continue reading

Inspiration

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 Continue reading