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!

You Had Me at Archives: The Power of the Written Word in The Bloodprint

Show Notes for Episode 2.7

Check out the episode below:

Quick links from the episode:

  • Folio Facts: Jennifer delves into the shady world of rare book heists this week, discussing the Carnegie Library heist. To learn more about this incredible story, listen to our episode above, or check out this wonderful article in Smithsonian Magazine.
  • BBE Bookstore: Jennifer’s extra read for this month was Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge, which is all about – you guess it – the Dutch concept of hygge. While it doesn’t have a direct translation into English, we’ll go with the word ‘cozy’, and essentially Wiking credits the Danish obsession with it as the main reason for their happiness.
  • Creatives’ Corner: Paige presents a YouTube channel this week, Biographics. This channel creates video biographies about the great and terrible figures from history. Paige likes to put a video on while eating dinner, and considering they make four a week, there is plenty of material for you to consume!
  • Below is a quote from Khan’s latest interview, read it in full on The Portalist to learn more about how Khan sees writing as an outlet for exploring human rights. Unsurprising given her background in human rights law.
  • Also, Khan’s last installment of the Khorasan Archives series is coming out like…now! Actually it comes out October 6th, but you can check it out in our affiliate shop.

The Khorasan Archives were to some extent, a commentary on ideology as a tool of oppression.

Ausma Zehanat Khan
This beautiful piece serves as the cover art for the American edition of The Bloodprint. The cover included earlier in the post is from the UK edition.

Coming up next time is our first spooky season pick: Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City. Tune in October 12th for magic, murder, and mayhem. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review or following us on social media (links above). 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!

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!

The Gold Star of Writing: N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season

Show Notes for Episode 2.1

The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (2015)

BBE is back for Season 2! We are so excited to present our very first episode on Books We Love. We put our listeners to the test at the end of last season to see which themes we should use for Season 2 and Books We Love won for our regular season episodes, while Movie Magic was the fan favorite for our bonus episodes. Shockingly, we are ecstatic to talk about books we are actually interested in and picked ourselves! Imagine that! But all jokes aside, we hope to have a great season ranting and raving over some of our absolute favs and screaming at producers who have butchered some quality novels. For our very first episode, Paige picked a real doozy: N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. Read on for the links and resources mentioned in the episode and a summary of our discussion.

Quick Links from the Episode

  • Here is an article on Bill Gates’ purchase of the Codex Leicester, which also gives more details on the journal as well as some beautiful photographs. Even though Gates paid a pretty penny for this Da Vinci masterpiece, he does let it out of his sight about once a year for it to go on display at various museums. Maybe you can catch it at a museum near you in the future…if covid ever let’s us out of the house again?
  • As Jennifer mentioned in the episode, the Codex Leicester is written in Da Vinci’s unique mirror writing style. Here is an article detailing that a bit more, as well as theories as to why Da Vinci wrote this way.
  • Da Vinci was one of the prime examples of the concept of the Renaissance man, which referred to the Renaissance belief that man could pursue knowledge in its entirety. Once you’ve looked over the concept of the Renaissance man, why not just look into Renaissance humanism? The Wikipedia article has an excellent list of further readings as well.
  • If you want to know more about N.K. Jemisin and her books, visit her website.
  • Aaaand here is some fun trivia about The Broken Earth series.
  • We are also excited to announce that we are an affiliate for Bookshop.org. Jennifer is really not sure what link she said in the actual episode, but she’s pretty sure she got it wrong. If you’d like to check out our store to order books we are reviewing in Season 2, click here.
  • Finally, in our Creatives’ Corner segment, Paige mentioned her new favorite podcast, Our Fake History, a must for any history buff.
For those unfamiliar with the three main body types, see the diagram above. The Sanzed beauty standard in The Fifth Season preferred the mesomorph and endomorph body types. Jennifer was going to link to an actual article about body types, but all she could find were articles about weight loss, which is pretty garbage-y.
Here is a magnificent photo of Tina Turner in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985). This is the image Jemisin drew inspiration from for her Sanzed beauty ideal, particularly the “ash blown” hair.

Main Points from the Episode

  • Who is N.K. Jemisin? N.K. Jemisin is basically a total badass. She has a background in psychology, but has been hugely successful as an author as well. She was not only the first black author to win a Hugo award, but she won three in a row (!!!), making her debut trilogy record-breaking as well.
  • We spent quite a lot of time on summary during this episode, because the worldbuilding for this fantasy was so intricate, and the story was complex besides. Essentially, the narrative centers around three main characters: Essun, Damaya, and Syenite. They are orogens, the magic users of a world called the Stillness, which is ironic given its completely chaotic nature. We’re talking The Day After Tomorrow kind of stuff. Orogens harness these natural forces, which makes them powerful, but also dangerous in the eyes of the dominant ruling culture, the Sanzed. The Fifth Season follows Essun, Damaya, and Syenite as they navigate this tumultuous and violent world.
  • One of the main questions this book prompted was what makes good worldbuilding? For Jennifer, good worldbuilding is texturally rich and follows an internal logic. Some good examples of this are Tolkien (duh), Erica Lindquist in the Reforged trilogy, Katherine Arden in the Winternight trilogy, and Tomi Adeyemi in the Legacy of Orisha series. Jennifer also argued that authors have to be careful how they present worldbuilding, they can’t reveal too much or too little, and it has to feel natural. This can be a difficult balance to find. For Paige, good worldbuilding is in the small details. For example, in this week’s book, the swear words are based around the word “rust”, which makes sense in a culture that is revolves around ‘stone lore’ and where metal is actually seen as a less stable material due to the environment.
  • Paige was also curious about Jennifer’s thoughts on the constant emphasis on the Sanzed beauty ideal throughout the book. Jemisin creates a unique beauty standard that the Sanzed are literally obsessed with. This includes being over six feet tall, having “ash-blown” hair a la Tina Turner, and the body types mentioned above. Nearly every character is measured against this standard in one way or another, consciously or unconsciously. The only thing that even came close that Jennifer could think of was Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. While it stuck out to Paige as being strange, Jennifer agreed with her that this was most likely because as white and white passing individuals they aren’t often reminded that they don’t fit into the Western ideal of beauty – which includes white or light skin. By creating a beauty standard that most (all?) readers do not identify with, N.K. Jemisin has been able to recreate to some degree an experience that her white readers often have the privilege of avoiding or being unaware of in real life. So a very thought-provoking inclusion all around.
  • Paige gave The Fifth Season 6 out of 5 stars, and let’s be honest, that is probably going to be every book this regular season.

Coming up next: Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. 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 Bookshop.org/shop/bigbookenergy, or visit our Patreon (linked below). Until next time!

July Sneak Peek

Welcome back book nerds and book ninjas! We are so excited to be entering Season 2 of Big Book Energy. Thanks to our listeners, we have two new themes for this season. Regular episodes will be Books We Love picks, a chance for us to rave about some of our all time favorite books. The theme for our bonus episodes this season is Movie Magic, where we read a book and then watch the movie to compare the two, probably trashing the movie to bits – but you never know! Season 2 is also bringing some other significant changes. We are changing our schedule, dialing back to posting an episode every other Monday, with one bonus episode per month. We are also introducing three new segments for our episodes: BBE Bookstore, Folio Facts, and Creatives’ Corner. Thanks for joining us for another awesome season.

Keep scrolling to see our July lineup:

Paige’s first Book We Love pick is none other than the Hugo award-winning first novel of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series: The Fifth Season. A gritty fantasy set in a truly imaginative world, this one is sure to rock your socks off. (Bad pun only applicable if you’ve read the books!)

While Paige went contemporary, Jennifer took a turn for the classics this month with one of her oldest all time favorites: Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. Perhaps one of the greatest revenge stories of all time, the 1,000 pages are 1,000% worth the read.

Our July Movie Magic pick is Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. We didn’t know that this book was even made into a movie? But the story is incredibly compelling, and come to find out Oprah stars as Deborah Lacks?! We are excited to say the least.

And that is a wrap for our July 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. 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 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.


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!

May Sneak Peek

Well book nerds and book ninjas, we have entered the final month of Season 1! It seems like only yesterday we published our very first episode way back in January, and were subsequently shocked that people actually listened to it. Thanks to everyone that has tuned in all season, we can’t wait to come back better than ever for Season 2, starting July 2020.

Scroll on for a Sneak Peek of the picks we are covering in May:

The first pick for Books We Hate this month, Paige selected another grimdark fantasy, Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades.

Jennifer’s final Thrift Store Find pick is a sci-fi classic, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. Jennifer typically dislikes sci-fi, so we will see how this goes? There may be some crossover with Books We Hate this week.

Jennifer has tried to read through Jane Eyre several times…and failed every time. Will Paige make it through? Will she become another adoring fan of this Bronte classic?

Written by a Mayan Elder and priest, The Book of Destiny is Paige’s final Thrift Store Find of the season. Apparently this book will help BBE unlock their destinies and fulfill their true potential. Quite a finale for the regular season!

This month’s bonus episode is our last Deep Dive episode into the world of Tolkien. Posthumously published, The Silmarillion is Jennifer’s favorite Tolkien work and she can’t wait to hear what Paige thinks. Full episode available only through Patreon.

And that is a wrap for our May Sneak Peek! Follow the links below to keep up with BBE on social media during our break. If you would like to support the podcast, you can head on over to our Patreon (also linked below). Stay nerdy, bookish peeps!

Show Notes – Bonus Episode 1.2

How the Hobbits Miraculously Survived The Fellowship of the Ring and other Musings

Quick Links from the Episode:

  • Links to the books Jennifer read in February: The Writer’s Journey, Unmentionable, and Educated.
  • Here are the books Jennifer is hoping to read in March, although we will see: Sapiens, and Brain Wash.
  • Here’s the link to the indiewire article on Amazon’s Lord of the Rings tv show. The main update since we recorded is that filming has been suspended in New Zealand due to COVID-19. If you want all the latest, make sure to follow the show’s Twitter page.
  • Yet another LOTR wiki has a list of all songs found in the main canon of books and films. Some of Jennifer’s favorites from The Fellowship of the Ring specifically are “A walking song”, “Verse of the Rings” (which is iconic, idc), “The Fall of Gil-Galad”, and “Song of Beren and Luthien”.
  • There are several great options for timelines with all the events in Middle Earth, here are a couple: Tolkien Gateway’s Wiki, and an interactive map w/ timeline on the Tolkien Project website.
  • Both the above sites also have great maps of Middle Earth (for the Tolkien Project, they have a larger map separate from a timeline as well), but if you are into collecting books on Tolkien, Jennifer recommends Karen Wynn Fonstad’s The Atlas of Middle Earth and David Day’s An Atlas of Tolkien, if you don’t have them already!
The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)

Paige and Jennifer continue their quest through Tolkien in the latest BBE Bonus Episode on The Fellowship of the Ring. This was a journey of rediscovery for both hosts: Paige had completely wiped the events of LOTR from her memory after reading them years ago (forgiveness pending on her rave reviews) and Jennifer had, for one reason or another, somehow not touched the trilogy in about eight years (le sigh). Long story short, it did not disappoint.

Publishing LOTR

The story of how The Lord of the Rings came to be published is a convoluted one. After the publication of The Hobbit, fans were clamoring for more from Middle Earth, but they would have wait more than fifteen years. Tolkien had originally wanted the entirety of LOTR published as one book, which did not go over well with his publisher, Raynon Unwin of the George Allen and Unwin publishing firm. After years of wrangling with Tolkien, who was temperamental at the best of times, The Lord of the Rings was published in three parts from 1954 to 1955. What came next was unexpected by everyone close to the project: LOTR was incredibly popular, garnered a rabid fan base, and combined with the efforts of Tolkien’s son, Christopher, would become one of the richest fantasy worlds in history. For more on Tolkien’s story, the Tolkien Society has an extensive biography, from which much of the information in this post was drawn.

Were WWI & WWII an Inspiration for Tolkien?

For this episode, we planned on incorporating how Tolkien’s personal history influenced and inspired his work. Of course, those plans were quite grand and, in the end, neither Paige or Jennifer managed to do any outside reading. However, Tolkien’s preface to The Lord of the Rings presents an interesting counterpoint to information commonly in circulation about this point. While many sources, including the Tolkien Society, point to WWI as being a formative experience that shaped Tolkien’s understanding of Middle Earth, its people, and its great wars, he seems to contradict this argument. While most of his statements are directed towards the idea that WWII was an inspiration for his work (which he also rejects), one passage in particular seems more ambiguous about his experiences as a young man. While he again denies that his work was not a reflection of post-WWII life, he does point to the impact his experience with war had on him as a young man. See the quote below and listen to the episode to hear BBE’s full thoughts!

One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead. Or to take a less grievous matter: it has been supposed by some that β€˜The Scouring of the Shire’ reflects the situation in England at the time when I was finishing my tale. It does not.

J.R.R. Tolkien, preface to The Lord of the Rings

Diving In

The real question is, how can you not like Lord of the Rings? The common refrain is that Tolkien’s style is dry, dense, or boring, but really it’s like any mid-century publication, plus the benefit of beautiful scenery. For Jennifer, reading Fellowship again was like stepping into a warm and familiar place, and though she had kind of internalized that Tolkien-is-boring narrative, she was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to read. Paige, after stepping away from LOTR for years, also dismissed the difficult-prose hype. If that is your only hold up on reading Lord of the Rings, you should probably give it another try, especially if you tried reading it when you were younger.

Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.

SHADE Master Tolkien, in his preface to The Lord of the Rings

The Fellowship of the Ring starts out benignly enough, with plenty of talk concerning hobbits, and Bilbo’s 111th birthday party. However, the story shifts away from this light-hearted children’s tale very quickly after this, when Gandalf confronts Bilbo about leaving the ring to Frodo, it is revealed that something much more sinister has surfaced.

The most badass scene of the book AND movie, where Gandalf faces off the balrog in Moria.

Here are some of the themes we discussed in the episode:

  • Movie swaps: good or bad? Perhaps surprisingly, Jennifer has some positive things to saw about some of the changes Jackson and company made to the original story. While we lose the awesome character of Glorfindel, we gain an awesome vignette of an active female character in Arwen, who rescues Frodo from the Black Riders. What happens with Arwen later….well that’s something else.
  • Boromir vs. Aragorn: the redemption of mankind. Each man was faced with the temptation of the ring, but while Boromir failed, Aragorn succeeded. What is Tolkien trying to say about human nature?
  • Frodo and Sam’s relationship. While in modern times, this relationship has often been cast as homoerotic, it was written by a man of another time, who was most likely against homosexuality. In addition, the cringe-worthy servility displayed by Sam towards Frodo at various points rubs our American sensibilities the wrong way. How do we reconcile these dynamics of Frodo and Sam’s relationship with what we know about the author?
  • Finally, strength is found in unexpected places. While we may joke about the hobbits being the worst adventurers of all time, by the end of the first part of LOTR, they are starting to reveal their hidden strength. Tolkien seems especially fond of this theme

Last Words

With just the first part of the series under our belt, this is only the beginning to a long and exciting journey. The Fellowship of the Ring sets the stage for many of the themes that Tolkien will pursue throughout his trilogy. As anyone who values reading literature probably already knows, these themes provide valuable lessons that can be applied to our own lives outside of stories. Check back in monthly as BBE continues to explore Middle Earth!

Tune in later this month for Bonus Episode 1.3 on Tolkien’s The Two Towers. To get access to the full episode, head over to our Patreon and subscribe to support the podcast. A shortened version of this episode is available everywhere podcasts live. If you are enjoying BBE so far, please consider leaving us a review and follow us on social media to keep up with our bookish goings-on (All links below). Until next time!