The SFFaudio Podcast #319 – READALONG: The Lord Of The Rings (Book 3 of 6) by J.R.R. Tolkien

June 1, 2015 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

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The SFFaudio Podcast #319 – Jesse, Julie Davis, Seth, and Maissa continue their journey through The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien with a discussion of Book III “The Treason of Isengard” (aka the first half of The Two Towers).

Talked about on today’s show:
Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes instead of six volumes due to paper shortages; surprise, Jesse prefers shorter volumes; Ayn Rand’s thick books, and thin books like Anthem; pocket editions of The Hobbit; small books make us feel like giant Alice in Wonder characters; The Two Towers is the shortest volume, though Return of the King is bulked up by appendices; as a first-time reader, Maissa appreciated the quick pacing; Anthony Boucher’s review claims the volume makes “inordinate demands” on readers; overwhelming back history; the difference of reading review and reading for pleasure; reading at Shadowfax speed!; “hope is in speed”; the poetry of Tolkien’s prose; Anglo-Saxon influence on alliteration in Rohan speech; the beauty of Tolkien’s descriptions; Gimli’s descriptions of the caves; the illegitimate heirs of Tolkien can’t compete with Tolkien’s command of language; the Orcs as comic relief; three factions of Orcs set against the three races of runners; Legolas and Gimli working through their differences; evil by definition does not make alliances; Saruman’s cloak of many colors as a symbol of evil; the Orcs’ lack of coöperation; who is the wandering old man in the hat?; the contrast between the Orc draught and Ent draught, similar to Gandalf’s flask of Miruvor in Book II; the persistent symbolism of waters and drinking in this volume; similarities between Rohan and Anglo Saxon culture; linguistic parallels between the speech of the Rohirrim and Old English; “sister-daughter” and different familial relations in Rohan; the emerging importance of Éowyn; the underpopulation of Middle Earth; parallels between the Third Age of Middle Earth and Europe after the “fall” of Rome; Gondor = Rome to some Tolkien scholars; Dan Carlin’s Blueprint for Armageddon on World War I; the influence of World War I on Tolkien’s writing; flood and trench imagery of Orthanc recalls the devastation of World War I; Middle Earth (and the modern world) is in a time of transition; conversation with Éomer about the persistence of legends; “not we, but those who come after, will make the legends of our time”; people tend not to recognize they’re in a time of transition; Jesse deftly defines “Flotsam and Jetsam” for us and ties them into the book’s backward-looking and forward-looking symbolism; Tolkien’s love of etymology; action like the Ents’ storming of Isengard happens off-stage; Agatha Christie style foreshadowing with Longbottom Leaf; we don’t really care about Helm’s Deep; “Aragorn joined Éomer in the van”; horrible tree puns; Old Forest as the Fangorn of the West; we’re pretty sure the Entwives are hanging out there; the Elves are less interesting than Ents because the Elves are too perfect; the Elves talked the Ents into wakefulness; Shadowfax’s race of horses can understand the speech of men; the pre-speech age of human beings and Koko the gorilla; the Rangers are the detectives of Middle Earth; Voltaire’s Zadie and Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin from The Murders in the Rue Morgue; debate about existence of evidence for the Entwines–stay tuned to the next volume!; finding the Entwives = Mission Impossible (cue theme); the growth (in many ways) of Merry and Pippin; Gandalf’s foresight in allowing them to join the Fellowship; “they are the pebbles that began the avalanche of the Ents’ rising”; the three runners sped 220 kilometers in four days; it proved fortuitous that Pippin found the Palantir; the Palantir is FaceTime with Sauron; Merry and Pippin were key to Boromir’s redemption; return of the black swans–and the eagle!; Ariel in The Tempest by Shakespeare does all the work for Prospero, just like the eagles; Gandalf actually performs magic in “The Voice of Saruman” chapter; the voice in Dune; Gandalf takes over the council of wizards; the blue wizards aren’t present because they’re too “swear-y”; the recurring importance of choice; Tolkien is always on the side of free will; Aragorn’s decision not to follow Frodo; Palantir are the “seven stones” of Gondor’s flag; the Palantir is neither good nor evil; Palantir symbolizes communication of superpowers between the world wars, and the iconic red phone; The Victorian Internet by Tom Standee: the telegraph is the best thing since sliced bread; the lazy visual shortcuts that the movie takes with the Palantir and with Saruman’s influence on Théoden; The Man Who Never Was; meanwhile, Sam and Frodo are slogging through; the inevitable breaking of the Fellowship; the four elements in Gandalf’s death and resurrection; more Lovecraftian weirdness in the bowels of Middle Earth; Gandalf has changed; Norse worm gnawing at the roots of the World Tree; Treebeard as shepherd of the trees; “boom, boom, dahrar!; Net names tell the whole story of things; Freebeard’s bed isn’t for sleeping; Shakespeare’s disappointment at Shakespeare’s sleight-of-hand with the trees of Birnam Wood not actually coming to life in Macbeth; “fear not, till Birnam wood do come to Dunsinane” almost perfectly echoed in The Two Towers; nobody does Elves better than Tolkien; the joy Tolkien must have had writing about trees.

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“Aragorn and Legolas went now with Eomer in the van.”

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M.E.R.P. - Ents Of Fangorn
M.E.R.P. - Riders Of Rohan illustration by Angus McBride
Ballantine Books - The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

By Seth Wilson

Review of Rings, Swords, And Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature by Michael D.C. Drout

March 11, 2007 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Modern Scholar - Rings, Sword, Monsters Rings, Swords, And Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature
Lectures by Professor Michael D.C. Drout
7 CDs & Book – 7 Hours 51 Minutes [LECTURES]
Publisher: Recorded Books LLC / The Modern Scholar
Published: 2006
ISBN: 1419386956
Themes: / Non-Fiction / Lectures / Fantasy / J.R.R. Tolkien / Middle Earth / Beowulf / Children’s Fantasy / Arthurian Legend / Magic Realism / World Building /

“It used to be that fantasy was a boy’s genre and that was clear even back through the 80s and 90s, that 90% of your audience for fantasy literature, 90% of your audience for Tolkien was male. That is no longer the case. When I give lecturings [sic] at gatherings of Tolkien enthusiasts the crowd is easily 50-50 male female and often times more female than male – though I will have to say that many of the women in the crowd are wearing elf-princess costumes – I’m not really sure what that means.”
-Lecture 13: Arthurian Fantasy (on the ‘Marion Zimmer Bradley effect’)

Most of this lecture series is concerned with Tolkien. Drout explains what influenced Tolkien’s fiction, how his work impacted Fantasy and how later writers reacted to and imitated him. A full five of the 14 lectures are on Tolkien’s books proper, with another four on what influenced him, and who he influenced. The scholarship here is absolutely engrossing, hearing Drout tease out details from names, the structure and the philosophy of Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion will delight any Tolkien fan. At one point in Lecture 4 Drout explains the sources for the names of both the 13 dwarves of The Hobbit and Gandalf too. According to Drout, Gandalf was originally named “Bladderthin.” But this isn’t just scholarship here, Drout is very much a critic, a fan of the works he studies. He gives a critical examination of plots, themes and the worlds of each of the Fantasy novels he talks about. Drout dissects Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books, calling them possibly the best Fantasy since Tolkien, on the one hand and also shows what doesn’t quite work in them. Drout, like Tolkien is an scholar of Anglo-Saxon so there is also plenty of talk about Beowulf and the impact it had on Tolkien. In fact, central to many of his arguments is the linguistic background each work of Fantasy makes use of. Tolkien works so well, argues Drout, in part, because it all hangs linguistically together. Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, which Drout thinks immensely prominent in post-Tolkien Fantasy, doesn’t have a cohesive linguistic bedrock, and that hurts the series – which he thinks is otherwise one of the best realized “secondary worlds” created. Whatever it is Drout talks about, he backs up his critical opinion. Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he’s read them, and has dissected the plots to show how as time has gone by and Brooks has written more, he’s come to have something of his own voice, and not just stayed the pale Tolkien imitator he started as.

The lectures on Tolkien inevitably lead to the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. Drout gives them their due, and shows why some of it works and some of it doesn’t. Arthurian Fantasy, which predates Tolkien, seems to have run a parallel course to “secondary world” fantasy literature. After hearing Lecture 13 you’ll come away with a desire to find a copy of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King and Mary Stewart’s Merlin series. My own opinion is that Drout gives too much credit to J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter novels, he talks about her writing for about 8 minutes. In fairness it would probably not be possible to talk about Children’s Fantasy literature without mentioning her popular series. But on the other hand there are many different kinds of Fantasy that Drout doesn’t talk about at all. I wonder why Neil Gaiman isn’t mentioned. What of Robert E. Howard? And why almost no talk about short stories? James Powell’s A Dirge For Clowntown needs some attention! The only solution is for Recorded Books to go back and ask for more from this professor. Call it Gods, Barbarians, and Clowns: Further Explorations Of Fantasy Literature or something. Until then I’ll be working on my Cimmerian-clown costume.

Posted by Jesse Willis