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!

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!

BBE Jumps Into Their First Fall of Bookish Podcasting

September 2020 Sneak Peek

It is that time again somehow, bookish peeps. August has absolutely flown by and we are staring down September. With that in mind, it is time to reveal our lineup for the coming month. Click through the gallery to preview our book pics! Let us know what you think and if you are also excited for some serious fall vibes.

Jennifer is bringing you BBE’s first academic history with Caroline Walker Bynum’s Holy Feast and Holy Fast. How much does Jennifer love this book? Well she *willingly* wrote three papers on it in grad school…so you could say a lot. CW: we will be talking about restricted eating behaviors.

Paige’s Books We Love pick for the month is Ausma Zehanat Khan’s The Bloodprint. An epic fantasy set in a Middle-Eastern inspired world, Paige loved this book for its world building and powerful female characters. Defeating a slave trade with the power of books? Sounds like an archivist’s dream.

BBE is SO excited to present this month’s Movie Magic episode: Hidden Figures. Margot Lee Shetterly’s book turned into a major motion picture. This could be our toughest call in Movie Magic yet.

And that is a wrap for our September Sneak Peek. To keep up with BBE this season, be sure to follow us on social media. If you are enjoying the podcast so far, we would dearly appreciate a review or you can send us an email. And finally, if you’d like to support the podcast, you can check out our Bookshop store, or head on over to our Patreon to get access to our full bonus episodes (link below). Stay nerdy, bookish peeps!

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!

Show Notes for Episode 1.16

Quick Links for the Episode

  • Like James Barclay, Brian Staveley also has a Fantastic Fiction page.
  • You can also visit Brian Staveley’s website for more information about the author and his latest work, engagements, etc.
  • As mentioned in the episode, here is the Tor review on The Emperor’s Blades that Jennifer read. She also read a Tor review on The Last Mortal Bond, the third and final installment in the trilogy. Not really sure if Tor did a review on the second book, but the overall picture of progress and improvement in Staveley’s writing seems to be clear from reading these two.
The Emperor’s Blades, Brian Staveley (2014)

This was Paige’s last Book We Hate pick. Her distaste, Jennifer discovered came not necessarily from the content – though there were issues there as well – but from the experience of listening to this story as an audio book. Similar to Jennifer’s experience with other fiction audio books, Paige could not get past the male reader straining to reach a higher register for female characters. Unable to finish, Paige was just as clueless to the ending of The Emperor’s Blades as Jennifer was upon beginning this read. But did Jennifer hate The Emperor’s Blades as much as her co-host?

Main Points from the Episode

  • A few notes about the author before we begin: Brian Staveley is a writer, teacher, and editor for Antilever Press. He has a Master’s in Creative Writing, and appears to be quite the active outdoorsy sort currently living in Vermont. The Emperor’s Blades was his first published work, won several awards, and the entire trilogy was generally well received – though there are some criticisms, some of which we will get into in this episode.
  • In what is becoming a tired refrain here at BBE, The Emperor’s Blades is another fantasy written by a man that includes unbelievable female characters, playing into stereotypes without innovation. The two most significant female characters in the story, Ha-Lin and Adare, are either only included to forward the character development of male characters or feature so infrequently that you literally forget they exist. The saving grace for The Emperor’s Blades is that Pyrre is such a badass character. Though still extremely one-dimensional, that could perhaps be forgiven since she appears very late in the story. In fact, Staveley wrote an entire book about Pyrre, Skullsworn, which was published after the trilogy and certainly sounds intriguing given how compelling a character she is!
  • A singularly odd and frankly disappointing aspect of Staveley’s writing is his portrayal of fat or overweight people. While it was not so blatant that all fat people were bad or evil (which is the case in some books – yikes), how Staveley described them was disturbing: in detailed, visceral, and negative terms.
  • Racism or discrimination also rears its ugly head in The Emperor’s Blades. There are characters in the book called leaches that possess a unique ability to harness the power of the natural world. This power also means that they are seen as dangerous and are persecuted brutally in most cases. When they are left alive, they still face ridicule, violence, and hatred. BBE has talked about including such touchy topics as racism and sexism before, perhaps most notably in our discussion of Green. In this episode, our main conclusion was that it is perfectly okay to include negative things like sexism and racism in your story as parts of a society because some societies (most, let’s be real) are that way. What is important, however, is how the main character responds to these beliefs or values. This is an opportunity for the author to show their own views, or to subvert these systems. What is interesting about The Emperor’s Blades is that the character, Valyn, is actively struggling with his internal biases against leaches because he is forced to work with one. While we are unsure if this promise of character growth is fulfilled in later books, it sure would be nice.

Conclusion

Overall, Jennifer found The Emperor’s Blades to be compelling. While there were issues that had her eyes rolling from time to time, it was sufficiently engaging that 600 or so pages went by pretty quickly. The worldbuilding had good depth and quality to it, the juxtaposition and exploration of emotions through two main characters (Valyn and Kaden) was fascinating, and the Csestriim made great soulless and emotionless villains. Jennifer is pretty sure that if Paige had read the book rather than listening to it, it wouldn’t have landed on our Books We Hate list. Jennifer finished the episode by giving Staveley 4 stars. In fact, if her TBR wasn’t already overflowing, she may even be interested in finishing the series. What more of a glowing tribute could a Book We Hate ask for?

Coming up next week: Bonus Episode 1.4 on Tolkien’s The Return of the King. 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 Patreon (all links below). Until next time!