The Heir of Eärendil

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

046 – Master and Servant

The second of two episodes on the Akallabêth, Tolkien’s story of NúmenorAr-Pharazôn is offered no resistance by Sauron, and gets the bright idea to take him as a hostage. Soon, you-know-who has wormed his way into the King’s trust and turned the Númenóreans to the worship of Melkor. As Sauron’s cult gains power in the kingdom, the Faithful led by Amandil and Elendil are persecuted; the aging Ar-Pharazôn prepares his armada to sail to the Undying Lands to take immortality by force, and the Valar respond with a disaster of biblical proportions. Also, Alan and Shawn finally disagree about something: Genesis.

To listen to our recent interview with John Garth and discussion of the history of the Númenor myth, see Episode 044 – The Threshold of Middle-earth: An Interview with John Garth.

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Listen to the episode here or on YouTube

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Comments or questions for Barliman’s Bag:

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Recommended Reading:

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Silmarillion (Mariner Books, paperback) pp. 270-282, Akallabêth

Tolkien, J. R. R. (Christopher Tolkien, ed.) The Lost Road and Other Writings (The History of Middle-earth, Vol. 5) (HarperCollins, paperback)

Tolkien, J. R. R. (Christopher Tolkien, ed.) Sauron Defeated (The History of Middle-earth, Vol. 9) (HarperCollins, paperback)

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays (HarperCollins, paperback)

Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (Mariner Books, paperback)

045 – Just Can’t Get Enough

The first of two episodes on the Akallabêth, the story of NúmenorAt the outset of the Second Age, the Valar reward the Edain with wisdom, long life and their own private island in the Great Sea. The Númenóreans become legendary seafarers, sailing east to the edge of Arda and bringing knowledge back to Middle-earth. But the Valar forbid them to sail west in search of the Undying Lands, and soon the Númenóreans begin to yearn for the one thing they cannot have: immortality. We look into Tolkien’s essays and letters to see what happens to mortals who do come to Aman, and dabble in genealogy with questionable results.

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. 259-270, Akallabêth

Tolkien, J. R. R. (Christopher Tolkien, ed.) Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth (Mariner Books, paperback)

Tolkien, J. R. R. (Christopher Tolkien, ed.) Sauron Defeated (The History of Middle-earth, Vol. 9) (HarperCollins, paperback)

Tolkien, J. R. R. (Christopher Tolkien, ed.) Morgoth’s Ring (The History of Middle-earth, Vol. 10) (HarperCollins, paperback)

Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (Mariner Books, paperback)