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!

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!

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!

April Sneak Peek

As we enter another month of craziness and uncertainty, take solace in the fact that Big Book Energy will still be serving up episodes every Monday and sporadic blog posts because Jennifer has a hard time staying on her sh*t. Keep scrolling for a preview of what we are chatting about this month:

First up this month is James Barclay’s Dawnthief. Following the adventures of the Raven, an elite band of mercenaries. Will Jennifer hate this book as much as Paige?

Our first Thrift Store Finds pick of April will be taking us on a supernatural tour of Williamsburg, VA. Be prepared for some *spooky* photos in this week’s Show Notes!

Up next is Nicholas Sparks’ Dear John. Once upon a time, Jennifer decided to give this bestseller a try. She was…unimpressed. Tune in to see if Paige thinks the same, although if you know anything about Paige, the answer is probably obvious.

Many moons ago, we promised you another ancient astronaut book, and the moment has finally come. A favorite source for Ancient Aliens, Erich von Danken’s Chariots of the Gods promises to be just as fascinating as our Lost Realms episode.

For our bonus episode this month, we will be finishing up Tolkien’s trilogy with The Return of the King. A teaser of this episode will be available everywhere podcasts live, but full episodes are available for our Patreon supporters.

And that is a wrap for our April Sneak Peek! Follow the links below to find us on social media or to support the podcast on Patreon. Stay nerdy, bookish peeps!

Show Notes – Bonus Episode 1.1

Dwarves are Trash and Other Thoughts on Tolkien’s The Hobbit

J.R.R. Tolkien as a young man (24)

What is your first memory of reading The Hobbit? Is it super nostalgic for you? Does seeing the classic illustrations or reading the chapter heading “An Unexpected Party” have you reaching for some tissues or staring mistily off into space? Jennifer first remembers her mother reading it aloud to her when she was perhaps six or seven, complete with a set of dwarvish voices. Or perhaps your first encounter was more similar to Paige’s with the animated movie leading then the book? However you came to read Tolkien’s classic, welcome to our first Deep Dive episode on Big Book Energy! There is no judgment on Tolkien nerdiness here, Jennifer’s computer is named Smaug after all. What is perhaps most shocking is that Paige has yet to read The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion. Or is it? Tolkien has perhaps become increasingly difficult for readers to sink their teeth into, especially when the highly palatable and action-packed Peter Jackson movie interpretations are now available.

This Deep Dive series seeks to do exactly what it says: dive in! And this season we are featuring Tolkien’s works as our point of focus, with The Hobbit being the logical starting place for such an excavation. We decided that for this month’s Deep Dive, we would have the added theme of Tolkien and Verse, i.e. an exploration of how Tolkien uses verse or poetry in The Hobbit, what that might mean, and what we think about it. Now, neither Paige or Jennifer are literary scholars, so walking through how poetry works in Old English – one of Tolkien’s many sources of inspiration – was a struggle. Despite this lack of knowledge, Jennifer attempts to break down alliterative verse anyway.

You can still see Bilbo’s green door in the still existing set of Hobbiton. Photo by Nate Johnston on Unsplash.

There are also inevitable references to the latest films and how they compare to Tolkien’s written work. Overall, both Paige and Jennifer were struck by how unimpressed they were with the dwarves in the book. While the most recent movie adaptations portray Thorin and company in a relatively good light, the book is much less kind to them. Over the course of the entire season we are also likely to discuss news items related to the latest endeavor of Amazon to not completely trash the Tolkien legacy. Our fingers are crossed, but Jennifer is nervous about what they will do with her treasured childhood realm of Middle Earth.

This episode comes at a particularly bittersweet time. Only a few days before recording, news broke that Christopher Tolkien had passed away at the age of 95. Tolkien’s contributions towards his father’s legacy cannot be understated. Without him, we would have been left with only The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. That is it. The Silmarillion, The Lost Tales, The Children of Hurin, The History of Middle Earth, Beren and Luthien, The Fall of Gondolin, and all the others that came between them would have been lost in Tolkien’s Smaug-worthy hoard of assorted paper and the incredible richness and depth of Middle Earth would have mostly been lost. Christopher Tolkien has our sincerest thanks for the countless hours spent organizing draft after conflicting draft and editing his father’s sometimes only partially finished works into a consumable form. BBE wishes him well on his voyage to brighter lands and fairer shores.

As promised, here is a terrifying image of Thranduil, king of the wood elves from the animated movie, The Hobbit (1977)

And here’s the BBE approved Thranduil, as played by Lee Pace in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. As you can see, there are some differences.

Here are some links promised in the episode:

  • Tor’s tribute to Christopher Tolkien and his legacy.
  • Here’s another tribute to Christopher Tolkien from NPR.
  • Jennifer is currently reading Christopher Vogel’s The Writer’s Journey, but is also super interested in contrasting this to Hayao Kawai’s The Japanese Psyche that explores common motifs in Japanese myths and fairy tales.
  • Here’s a couple great articles on recycling in America by NPR and The Atlantic. If you are interested in learning about going zero waste, Jennifer is really enjoying the book she is reading right now, Kathryn Kellogg’s 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste. Anyway, it is terrifying how wasteful we are with our limited resources, and Jennifer encourages everyone to evaluate their habits to reduce above all their consumption of single-use plastics and plastic in general.
  • Link to amazing Wikipedia page on alliterative verse so you don’t have to only rely on Jennifer’s mediocre explanations.
  • According to Wikipedia, Tolkien served in varying positions at Oxford from 1925 to 1959.
  • The Wikipedia page on the Inklings is a good source, and if you are further interested in the Inklings, be sure to check out the Journal of Inklings Studies.
  • Amazon show, what’s going on?
  • If you haven’t visited Tolkien Society yet, are you even a Tolkien fan??? They specifically have a page for Tolkien related readings, and many other awesome links.
  • Also, check out Tolkien’s Poetry, as mentioned on this month’s Deep Dive episode.

To catch our full discussion on why dwarves are terrible, why Bilbo is an absolute treasure, and why the recent Hobbit films succeed in some ways while failing completely in others, you’ll need to hop over to our Patreon page and subscribe! However, we have also uploaded a short summary/teaser of this episode where all podcasts live. Give us a follow on social media (links above) to keep up with all the BBE news. Until next time!

February Sneak Peek

Coming up on BBE in February:

First, a huge shout out to everyone that tuned in during Big Book Energy’s inaugural month! We hope this coming month is just as entertaining. We’ve lined up some uplifting picks filled with booze, SFF genocide, pandemics, and more muddling in philosophy because apparently past Jennifer really hated all things abstract and ambiguous. Scroll down to see the February Sneak Peek:

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley is Paige’s pick for Books We Hate this month. A contribution to the grimdark subgenre of fantasy, Hurley’s ambitious work incorporates several relevant trends such as exploring gender. Despite these positive strides, The Mirror Empire left Paige a little wanting. Will Jennifer hate this book as much as Paige did?

Continuing our lighthearted line up for February, John M. Barry’s nonfiction work, The Great Influenza covers the 1918 flu pandemic that killed more that WWI and WWII combined. This outbreak occurred at a critical moment in modern medicine, and this Thrift Store Finds pick comes at a highly relevant time!

Our second Books We Hate pick of the month, Jennifer hated this Paulo Coelho classic when she first read it. In fact…she has admitted that it was so distasteful to her, she didn’t even finish it. Will Paige feel the same? Or will she agree with the countless fans of The Alchemist?

Another nonfiction offering, Linda Himelstein’s The King of Vodka follows the life and times of Pyotr Smirnov, creator of Smirnoff vodka. Sit back, have an adult beverage or two, and follow along for a stranger than fiction tale.

Our Deep Dive pick for February is a continuation of our Tolkien theme. We will be discussing part one of Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring. Our theme this week will be exploring how Tolkien’s personal history helped him to create the vibrant world of Middle Earth and devise the story of the Lord of the Rings. Keep in mind Deep Dive picks are bonus episodes only available in full to Patreon subscribers, though a short teaser will be available for everyone. If you would like to unlock this episode and support BBE in the process, check out the link to our Patreon page above.

And that is a wrap for February 2020! Follow up on social media (links above) if you want to keep connected with all the latest BBE news.