Unpopular Opinion: Why The Silmarillion is the Best of Tolkien

Show Notes for Bonus Episode 1.5

Check out the free version of the episode below:

To get access to full-length bonus episodes, head over to our Patreon.

Quick links from the episode:

  • First thoughts:
    • This book is very much like the book of Genesis, and this was a conscious effort on the part of Tolkien.
    • Why are so many grown-ass elves, angels, men just absolute spoiled brats in this book?? Was Tolkien making some kind of commentary? Good thing there are some absolute gems like Beren and EΓ€rendil.
    • Overall, this book is our favorite Tolkien offering. Both Paige and Jennifer really appreciate seeing the elves as badasses, rather than the apathetic emo kids they are in the Lord of the Rings. It’s because they’re tired okay?!
    • Plus, how sweet is it that Tolkien used his own love story as inspiration for the story of Beren and Luthien?
  • Family Trees:
    • Hung up on the insanely complicated family trees in The Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings? You’re not alone! Thankfully most, if not all, editions will include genealogical charts. However, if you are away from your books, the LOTR Project *may* be able to help you.
      • We say may because this huge tree is not super browser friendly and takes some work to scroll through. However, it is extremely detailed and the LOTR Project has embarked on several other projects that you might find interesting.

Among the tales of sorrow and of ruin that came down to us from the darkness of those days there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review or following us on social media. If you’d like to support the podcast head on over to our Patreon for bonus content or our Bookshop store to purchase your own copy of The Silmarillion. Until next time, cheers!

The Women Behind the Curtain: Uncovering NASA’s Hidden Figures

Show Notes for Bonus Episode 2.3

Check out the free version of the episode below:

If you are interested in hearing the full version of this episode, head on over to our Patreon and sign up for the Book Ninja or Book Mage tiers!

Main Points from the Episode:

Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly (2016)
  • Learn more about our author of the week, Margot Lee Shetterly by visiting her website.
  • Paige Presents Fun with Comics: an exciting deep-cut pick that isn’t for everyone, Paige introduced Injection this month. A mix of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, this comic focuses on a government project gone wrong: mixing magic and technology together to produce one killer machine.
  • The Wikipedia article on the film has a section that addresses historical accuracy as well as some of the comments screenwriter Theodore Melfi made that Jennifer referenced in the episode. However, take this section with a grain of salt as some of the sources are blogs which may or may not have accurate information.
  • Surprisingly, we would actually prefer the movie over the book on this one. However, we still recommend giving the book a read because it has so much good contextual & historical information.

Coming up next time is our September bonus Movie Magic episode! This month we will be comparing the book and film adaptation of Hidden Figures. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review or following us on social media. If you’d like to support the podcast, you can buy books mentioned in this episode from our Bookshop store, or head on over to our Patreon for bonus content. Until next time, cheers!

That Witch King Juju: Tolkien’s The Return of the King

Show Notes for Bonus Episode 1.4

Check out a sample of the full-length episode below!

To get access to full-length bonus episodes, head over to our Patreon.

Quick Links from the Episode:

  • What did Jennifer read in the past month? Check out the links below for our Bookshop affiliate store:
  • For fans of Gilmore Girls, you may already be familiar with PBS’s iconic documentary series, Joseph Campbell & The Power of Myth. Campbell later published a book by the same name. If you want to watch the series, unfortunately you’ll have to pay for the privilege. It is available on Amazon for purchase.
  • It was Campbell that inspired Christopher Vogler to write The Writer’s Journey, combined with his years of experience reading stories at Disney. In this episode, Jennifer and Paige discuss several of the character archetypes that Vogler discusses in his book and how they can be applied in Lord of the Rings.
  • Keep scrolling to see some choice clips from the movie!

It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
The charge of the Rohirrim during the battle for Minas Tirith (Battle of the Pelennor Fields) is as heartwarming as killing a bunch of orcs could possibly be.
Moments later, Eowyn shows what a badass she is by beating the sh*t out of the Witch King of Angmar.
Finally, the final battle against Sauron, with Aragorn’s iconic “For Frodo.”

If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review or following us on social media. If you’d like to support the podcast head on over to our Patreon for bonus content. Until next time, cheers!

Love in the Time of Cholera was a Bad Time

Show Notes for Bonus Episode 2.2

Quick Links from the Episode

Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985)

He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.

Gabriel Garcia marquez, Love in the time of cholera

Main Points from the Episode

  • What were our overall thoughts/impressions of the book? Hahahaaa….so. Let’s simplify and say that we both kinda hated Love in the Time of Cholera. Paige was most bothered by the character, Florentino Ariza, who she (accurately) describes as a predator, but who is presented as a hero in the story. Jennifer was stymied by the fact that she had to listen to this as an audiobook, which ruined the effect of the writing style for her. Both of us were very confused about why this book is often touted as an inspiring romance.
  • Does Fermina Daza love Florentino Ariza? Does anyone actually love anyone else? Categorically we agree that Florentino Ariza does not love Fermina Daza, rather he is obsessed with her, which is a different thing altogether. However, it is trickier to decide if Fermina loves either Florentino or Juvenal Urbino. Is this just a matter of comfort? The stability of knowing another human well and the ability to be yourself around them? Fermina is such a fascinating character, and despite being given a lot of time in her head, it is still not clear what Fermina feels other than occasional bursts of anger.
  • How do the book and movie compare? As for the movie, choices were made, and they were not good ones. Poor Florentino was aging wildly throughout the movie in ways the other characters did not, in addition to a weird switch of actors from young Florentino to slightly older Florentino (played by Javier Bardem). Characters were added in, while other important characters from the book – mainly Leona Cassiani – were written out. The subtlety of the relationships was completely lost. While some of the cinematography was breathtaking, this was overall a flop for BBE. However, if we are weighing book and movie, at least the movie was shorter? All jokes aside, it is clear that the book is of much higher quality (don’t walk away from this thinking Marquez cannot write well), it just comes down to the fact neither of them were for us.
The two love birds Florentino and Fermina, as played by Javier Bardem and Giovanna Mezzogiorno in the feature film.

Coming up next time, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review or following us on social media. If you’d like to support the podcast, you can buy any of the books mentioned in this episode from our Bookshop store, or head on over to our Patreon for bonus content. Until next time, cheers!

Stolen Cells: Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Show Notes for Bonus Episode 2.1

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2009)

Our very first Movie Magic pick for Season 2 is Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. When Paige first recommended this book for Movie Magic, Jennifer immediately agreed. Jennifer had actually read this book for the first time earlier in 2019, which is perhaps embarrassing since the book was published in 2009 and was on the New York Times Bestseller list for six years. So we were a little behind. Regardless, Skloot’s work is an excellent piece of science writing and the story of Henrietta Lacks and her family is frankly incredible.

Taken far too soon from her children by a horrifically aggressive cancer, Henrietta’s cancerous cells turned out to be one of the greatest boons ever given to modern science. Her cells are immortal, reproducing endlessly as long as they are fed, and allowed for generations of scientists to make breakthroughs and discoveries that have saved millions of lives. However, these cells were taken without proper consent or knowledge, and this fact has since prompted heated debates on the ethics of modern genetic research – something in which everyone living today has a stake.

Quick Links from the Episode

  • To learn more about our author for this month, you can visit Rebecca Skloot’s website.
  • Skloot also started the Henrietta Lacks Foundation, which provides scholarship to descendants of Henrietta, or descendants of others subjected to historical research without consent.
  • Paige Downey Presents Fun with Comics is our new segment that appears monthly during our Movie Magic episodes. This month, Paige presents Saga, by Fiona Staples.
  • You can find Fiona on Instagram and Tumblr. Also, Marvel and DC aren’t the only sheriffs in town – don’t sleep on Image comics!
  • A relatively recent Wired article breaks down where we are currently at with laws governing genetics in the United States.
  • The LawSeq project is dedicated to compiling all laws related to genetics and genetic research in the United States (state and federal) and their site is a fantastic resource for learning more about this topic.
  • The Washington Post published an excellent article on the experiments done on Puerto Rican women for the pill. Jennifer was incorrect in the episode in remembering this occurred in the 1970s, it was actually in the 1950’s!
  • To purchase any of the books mentioned in this month’s bonus episode, head on over to our Bookshop store!

Main Points from the Episode

  • When did you first learn about Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cells? Jennifer only learned about this amazing story when she first read the book last year. Paige actually found a short description of HeLa’s story in her college biology textbook, but has no memory of learning about it then. However, a few years ago, she did run across a few articles that mentioned immortal cells.
  • Is it ethical to take someone’s cells for research without their knowledge or consent? You think this is a trick question? The obvious answer seems to be a resounding no. However, the reality is that for decades this was a common practice in the medical field. Paige and Jennifer rant about this quite a bit – the first of several rants about ethics in this book. See the quick links above for more information about what is actually in the [law]books about this currently.
  • Was taking the HeLa cells without proper consent justified? You can thank Paige for this really difficult question, and BBE was torn over the answer to this one. Research on HeLa cells has literally saved millions of lives – we can thank them for polio vaccines, HPV vaccines, AIDS research, cancer research, etc. etc. etc. until the end of time. This certainly tips the scales in favor of this action being justified (though not really ethical). However, the researcher who originally took these cells was not aware of what a contribution they would make. Jennifer waffles back and forth on this one, but Paige comes down on the side of not being justified as the ends never justify the means for her. Both rant about the importance and meaning of informed consent, a critical issue in this arena.
  • What does this book teach us about the power dynamic between the medical field in the United States and minorities or people of color? If you didn’t already know, historically communities of color have been disproportionately treated poorly by the medical profession in the United States. Skloot’s book does a great job illustrating how individual instances of mistreatment can promote mistrust in entire families or communities, as well as providing many other examples of larger experiments on people of color that have contributed to suspicion of the medical profession.

We know why you really tuned in though, it was to see which one we liked better: book or movie! Not surprisingly, Jennifer and Paige preferred the book. We both went into the movie with extremely low expectations. It wasn’t a big budget production released in theaters or anything of the sort. While we love Oprah, seeing her listed in the cast also seemed cause for concern. However, we needn’t have worried at all. The movie adaptation heads in a different direction than the book, focusing almost purely on the human element: the story of Henrietta, and her daughter Deborah’s search for answers. The cast was truly excellent, and the movie did a wonderful job of portraying the relationship between Deborah Lacks and Skloot.

That being said, the book provided so much more information that explained the science behind why Henrietta’s story was important. This is perhaps unfair to a movie, which only has a couple hours or so to convey several hundred pages of written content. But what can we say, we’re book people! Movies better really blow us away to win out. Either way, we would recommend reading the book AND watching the movie.

This image shows HeLa cells in different stages of cell division.
This beautiful photograph of HeLa cells in metaphase and telophase is courtesy of the archive of Josef Reischig.

Coming up next is Paige’s all time favorite book ever: Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review, and to keep up with all the BBE news, follow us on social media. If you are interested in supporting the podcast, head on over to our Bookshop store, or visit our Patreon (linked below). Until next time!

Show Notes – Bonus Episode 1.3

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: Tolkien’s The Two Towers

Quick Links from the Episode:

The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien (1955)
  • What Jennifer was reading this month: Things in Jars & A Heart So Fierce and Broken.
  • We couldn’t remember what tower Frodo was taken to after he was captured at the end of The Two Towers, but it was the very appropriately named Tower of Cirith Ungol, meaning tower of the spider’s cleft (roughly).
  • This wasn’t discussed in the episode, but what towers does the title refer to? This isn’t necessarily clear because there are so many towers to choose from! The answer is that Tolkien intended the title to refer to Orthanc and Minas Morgul – did you guess them correctly? You can check out the fan wiki Tolkien Gateway for an explanation. The above book cover also shows the towers. HOWEVER, don’t feel bad if you thought maybe the title referred to Orthanc and Barad Dur instead. This was a creative choice made by Peter Jackson for the movies. If you take a peak at the movie poster below you’ll be able to see Barad Dur rather than Minas Morgul.

Main Points from the Episode

  • Jennifer confirmed what she had remembered from the last time she read The Two Towers: that the first half of the book is her favorite part of LOTR and she absolutely hates the second half. Paige also had to agree with this assessment as well. The entire Sam and Frodo narrative drags, with fewer plot points that bring in action and interest. Part of this is due to Tolkien needing to move the characters across a large distance – it can be tricky making travel seem interesting – but a modern author probably would have interspersed the narratives to keep everything fresh. This brings up our other main point of contention with the book: the extremely strict division of the two different narratives is a jarring cutoff in the middle of the book.
  • Props to Sam. He may be portrayed as a country bumpkin (the movie only plays this up more), but he has a good head on his shoulders. There are many parts where he has stunning moments of insight, and often is more on top of things than Frodo who, admittedly, is distracted by his inner turmoil.
  • Encountering racism? It is hard to miss reading through Tolkien that the “bad guys” are often from the East or the South, and are described as being swarthy or dark-skinned. In contrast, the descendants of Numenor have fair skin, gray eyes, and dark hair. The Rohirrim are also described as being fair skinned with fair hair. This contrast is especially interesting given that Elendil, Isildur, and Anarion were also essentially colonizers who took over large portions of Middle Earth after they escaped the destruction of Numenor. Was Tolkien just drawing on European history which often ascribes positive values to light skin and negative values to dark skin? Was he unconsciously acting out biases inherited from his own time? As we say in the episode five thousand times: it’s interesting. And we have no firm answers.
  • There were also many comparisons made between the movie and the book. The movie (really all the movies) are admirable adaptations that we believe capture the spirit of the books. The clips below are just some of the amazing moments that can bring a tear to any true Tolkien fan’s eye. The movie also has a more balanced narrative, cutting between the two halves of the broken Fellowship. HOWEVER. There are some egregious additions that are made which bring Jennifer’s blood to a nice roiling boil. The main offense is the change made to Faramir’s plot line. In the book, Faramir rejects the pull of the ring and allows Frodo and Sam continue on their journey at great personal cost (i.e. his dad is the WORST). Instead of representing a symbolic redemption after his brother’s betrayal and fall to temptation, Peter Jackson and company made the inexplicable decision to have Faramir decide to take the ring, though he will walk back on this decision later. Much ranting was done on these points, but you’ll need to take a listen to learn more.
This movie poster clearly shows Orthanc (right) and Barad Dur (left) – though Sauron’s eye is missing from the pinnacle.

We will leave you with these inspiring video clips from the movie (really, go watch the movie now):

One of Jennifer’s favorite songs in The Two Towers, in her favorite battle of the entire trilogy: Helm’s Deep. Epic!
Continuing from the first scene above, here is perhaps the most satisfying portion of the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Not accurate to the book…just so we are clear. But satisfying nonetheless.
So this is really a compilation from The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, but the whole sequence was too good to resist.

Tune in next month for Bonus Episode 1.4 on The Return of the King. Teasers of the bonus episodes are available everywhere podcasts live, full episodes can be accessed by supporting the podcast on Patreon. You can also buy copies of the books mentioned in these bonus episodes by checking out our store on Bookshop.org. If you are enjoying the podcast so far, please consider leaving us a review and finding us on social media (all links below). Until next time!