7. Crypto-magical in Their Own Way.

Jared, Oriana and Ned discuss Ned’s choice of topic: Ghân-buri-Ghân. Briefly featuring in The Return of the King as a leader of ‘Wild Men’ who offers to help the Rohirrim on their ride to Minas Tirith, Ghân-buri-Ghân is on the surface seemingly little more than a caricature on several levels: a stoic ‘tribesman,’ perhaps even a noble savage with all that implies. But in both his sharp, sometimes very darkly sardonic responses to the Rohirrim and in the further backstory that Tolkien then created for Ghân-buri-Ghân’s culture as a whole, Tolkien explores some very deep waters indeed. What might be the connections between Tolkien’s depiction of small powers in the shadow of an empire and the realities of the British Empire he grew up in? What do Tolkien’s writings on the Drúedain show in terms of how he viewed them in the grand scheme of Middle-earth’s design? And on a final note, what does the little known story “Tal-Elmar” show in terms of imperialism, colonialism and conquest during the era of Númenorean dominance?

Show Notes.

Jared’s doodle of Ghân-buri-Ghân and the Púkel-men.

Luke Shelton’s tweet response that led us to Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J.R.R. Tolkien.

John Rateliff absolutely knows his Tolkien.

Here’s the news on the wider casting call for the Amazon series.

Taika Waititi!  He’s a guy.  

Ghân-buri-Ghân—only there for a couple of pages, but it’s a hell of an appearance.

Separately, more on the Púkel-men and the Drúedain. (One of the Púkel-men statues does make a very brief appearance in Peter Jackson’s Return of the King.)

Louise Liebherr’s “Reimagining Tolkien: A Post-colonial Perspective on The Lord of the Rings.” 

The Neanderthals remain a vividly strong presence in how society considers prehistory—and how that consideration can change over time.

Orientalism retains a strong—and pernicious—influence to the present day.

Irish Home Rule was absolutely a dominant political question in Victorian and Edwardian days.

Tolkien’s Letter 61 is one of his most vivid and revealing.

Christina Fawcett’s “Play and Pacifist Space: Language in the Writing of J.R.R. Tolkien.”

Tal-Elmar” may in the end be the most mysterious Middle-earth story Tolkien ever wrote.

Support By-The-Bywater on Patreon and help us make the show. Thanks!

Subscribe to By-The-Bywater via Apple Podcasts | Overcast | Google Podcasts | Spotify | RSS.

6. “Strider! What’s Up, Man?”

Jared, Oriana and Ned discuss Jared’s choice of topic: friendship! Friendship in Middle-earth is a key part of many different characters’ lives, and how it both plays out in stories and simply exists in its own right is well worth considering, from the primary friendship of Frodo and Sam to many other examples throughout the legendarium. How does Tolkien’s own socialization in Edwardian England shape both the friendships of his own life and his portrayals of it in his writing? Is his near-exclusive focus on male-to-male friendships potentially alienating? What are some counterexamples of the strong friendships he portrays—friendships that end in disaster, or false friendships that never were? Perhaps above all else, what makes Tolkien so open to portraying deep visible emotions in his male friendships, and how does that contrast with how male friendships are often shown in modern American creative arts?

Show Notes.

Jared’s doodle for the episode showcases what he considers to be the apex of Frodo and Sam’s friendship, one of the most famed moments in all of Tolkien’s creative work.

Go see Jared at GeekGirlCon in Seattle in mid-November! You’ll be glad you did.

Indeed, we thank everyone again for all their lovely comments so far, and we do want to especially note Karin Kross’s reaction to Oriana’s talking about Celeborn as a purse.

You don’t know John Mulaney’s work?  You’re missing out.

Variety broke the news of Will Poulter’s casting in the Amazon production. And beyond that...not much is known.

There’s a lot of academic work out there on male relationships in Edwardian England, though much of it is paywalled.  Sarah Cole’s Modernism, Male Friendship, and the First World War is mostly on Google Books, at least! 

When it comes to Tolkien’s own deep male friendships in real life and comparative examples in his work, “Tolkien, Friendship and the Four Loves” at the Council of Elrond site provides a reasonable overview that acknowledges the complex social differences and perception between then and now. Meantime, Anna Smol’s “Male Friendship in The Lord of the Rings: Medievalism, the First World War, and Contemporary Rewritings,” while paywalled, has an extensive abstract.

Homosociality!  It’s an important term.

To say that there’s a lot out there on the Holmes/Watson relationship is to understate.

Beregond and Bergil make for a really enjoyable father/son portrayal in The Lord of the Rings—one could easily imagine their own story in the larger epic on its own.

Kaila Hale-Stern’s “Let’s Talk About That Queer Subtext in Tolkien” for the Mary Sue delves into the portrayal of Tolkien and Smith’s relationship in the 2019 biopic, contrasting it against what we know of the actual friendship.

A Spring Harvest by Geoffrey Bache Smith, one of Tolkien’s close friends who died in the war, is available for free reading on Gutenberg.org, including Tolkien’s preface.

Dulce Et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen may be the paradigmatic English language poem about World War I by a poet who perished in the conflict, but of course it is far from the only one.

You can get the story of Turin and Beleg in The Silmarillion, but the standalone version The Children of Húrin with Alan Lee’s illustrations is even more detailed and deeper.

Gretchen Felker-Martin’s essay in question is “I Would Have Followed You: Masculine Love and Devotion in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.”

Subscribe to By-The-Bywater via Apple Podcasts | Overcast | Google Podcasts | Spotify | RSS.

5. This Mysterious Færie Queen.

Jared, Oriana and Ned discuss Oriana’s choice of topic: Galadriel. Even if she’s not actually Cate Blanchett in platform heels, she’s tall and blonde, and she seems to have a total drip of a husband in Celeborn. If he’s wise, she’s definitely wiser, and once introduced into the legendarium, Tolkien himself didn’t seem to know exactly what to do with her backstory, quite literally changing details just a month before he died. Among our discussions: what did Galadriel and Celeborn do all that time when they were hanging out at the Elf havens in Gondor? Is Galadriel in fact really talking to Sauron in the famed sequence viewing her mirror? Why didn’t Galadriel return to Valinor sooner when it seemed she had numerous opportunities to do so? And of course: what is it about her hair? Bonus appearance by a thunderstorm!

Show Notes.

Jared’s doodle for the episode is another success, of course!

The full interview of Stephen Colbert by Anderson Cooper on grief is worth a watch; Colbert first mentions Tolkien offhand a little after the 6:30 mark. Colbert interviewing Lee Pace is a much lighter subject, with the initial Tolkien nerdery happening almost out of the gate. 

Here’s that Amazon video introducing their show’s creative team. There are some heavy hitters for sure! IMDB credits for Gen Hutchison show the range—Fringe is currently streaming (with ads) via Amazon. Kate Hawley’s IMDB page similarly has a lot to offer—in 2015 she was interviewed about her Crimson Peak work in detail, and her Instagram is cool—and Rick Heinrichs has done more than a few things himself.

John Howe is, well, John Howe. He’s just that good. Last year’s A Middle Earth Traveller was a great overview of his many designs for both of Peter Jackson’s trilogies, so we’ll see what carries through into Amazon’s production.

Tom Shippey is his own total legend, and very much still active in work on and about Tolkien, as this hour-long lecture from the Tolkien 2019 gathering in England earlier this month shows. His Tolkien Gesellschaft interview doesn’t and can’t say everything of course but there’s a lot in there that shows what the general path of the Amazon adaptation will be like.

Markella Kavenagh is (almost) Tyra, if Variety’s news story is any indication. TheOneRing.net’s piece on this news has more background on the general casting/audition process.

There’s plenty out there on the Robert Jordan Wheel of Time adaptation at Amazon—here’s recent casting news—but yes, suffice to say his estate was NOT thrilled by this bizarre production by another team entirely from back in 2016.

I mean, yeah, Cate Blanchett, Galadriel, there ya go.

But more seriously, Tolkien Gateway’s overview of Galadriel gives a real sense of the character’s deep history in the world of the legendarium, as well as the various points of that history that Tolkien never fully resolved, such as whether or not Amroth was her son.

Jared’s reminder that Tolkien was far from ‘woke’ is a further reminder in turn that there’s been quite a bit of scholarship on Galadriel and feminism in various corners.  (This piece, while heavily academic, looks at her and Eowyn in detail in the context of Tolkien’s ‘inadvertant feminism.’)

Celeborn, the master of just being there, supposedly being wise. (And yet, based on his few lines in The Lord of the Rings, he’s not THAT wise.)  And yes, this really is an alternate version of his name.

Suffice to say “The Mirror of Galadriel” is and remains one of the most memorable chapters and moments from the book and its many adaptations. As for the mirror itself, there are theories...lots of them.

Galadriel’s hair alone may be the most memorable in any kind of fantastic literature since Rapunzel. (Though Lúthien knew something about hair too.)  One of the cleverer bits of Jackson’s movies was keeping the exact scene offscreen, simply recalled in wistful retrospect instead. (As John Rhys Davies noted in the documentaries with the films, it’s a great moment to read, but a hard one to capture on film and act in.)

Galadriel as a manifestation of Tolkien’s Catholicism is no small subject matter. The question of her identification with the Virgin Mary has long been a topic for discussion—here’s a couple of pieces among many—while her famed poem sung upon the Fellowship’s departure, “Namárië,” itself feels like a prayer to another Marian figure, the Vala Varda aka Elbereth Gilthoniel.

The issue of mindreading and telepathy in Tolkien is a touch vague—but not totally absent either: his late essay “Ósanwe-kenta,” published in the 39th issue of Vinyar Tengwar, talks about it in some detail; while not available online, it’s drawn upon for this extensive piece on the wider subject.

My Bloody Valentine? I do like them.

Subscribe to By-The-Bywater via Apple Podcasts | Overcast | Google Podcasts | Spotify | RSS.

4. A Series of Small Wounds.

Jared, Oriana and Ned discuss Ned’s choice of topic: “Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner’s Wife.” An incomplete effort written in the 1960s and edited by Christopher Tolkien for 1980’s Unfinished Tales, “Aldarion and Erendis” is possibly the most unique story in Tolkien’s Middle-earth legendarium: a serious and ultimately sad domestic drama about a failed marriage, mixed with the origins of world-changing events. Why is it notable the Númenoreans initially work with wood and not stone? How does the fact that there are protagonists and antagonists but ultimately no heroes shape the story’s impact? And above all else, where to start with that astonishing monologue from Erendis to her daughter, one of Tolkien’s most powerful pieces of writing?

Show Notes.

Oriana’s piece about Peter Thiel and Palantir.  As you can see, the title’s a little rude. (Deservedly.)  Subscribe to her newsletter!

Yeah, it’s warm. We don’t need to belabor the long-term obvious, do we?

The article that broke the news of J. A. Bayona’s hiring as initial series director for Amazon’s TV series. Review his IMDB page at your leisure; here’s a 2018 interview where he talks about his film career in general, available as both podcast and transcript.

Some local New Zealand articles confirming Amazon’s filming in the country as well as the local impact in Auckland, where filming will be based.

Initial casting news did break literally the day after we recorded!  We’ll have more on this next episode.

The NZ ‘Hobbit law’ is very much a sore point still.  For further background, we recommend Lindsey Ellis’s three-part series on Jackson’s adaptation, but especially the third episode.

The initial news about Amazon’s collaboration with Leyou on an MMO Lord of the Rings game, and what it supposedly does and doesn’t involve.  (The art that Jared was distinctly unimpressed with is from an older game, at least.)

There’s plenty out there on Númenor in general—here’s the Tolkien Gateway summary.  (And if you like, here’s their summary of “Aldarion and Erendis” itself.)

A possible comparative example to Erendis’s monologue to Ancalimë, one that Tolkien would be familiar with by default, would be the Wife of Bath’s Tale as written by Geoffrey Chaucer—a male author giving a female character an actual sense of agency as well as voicing not so subtle protest against a societal structure set up for the benefit of men.  Specifically, consider the famous ‘who painted the lion’ sequence, as this essay discusses.

Once again, Revolutionary Road.  It really does make sense as another comparison point.

To give you an idea of what a Reddit relationship post can be like, here’s a thing.

We all love Ursula K. Le Guin, because she was that great.  See the film on August 2nd on PBS if you can.

Plenty of examples of laws of succession and whether women could hold thrones over time. A famous European one: the Salic Law of Succession.

Grimdark is something you really can have too much of.

Religion in Middle-earth—and its overt absence as is generally understood—really is its own discussion topic.  Tolkien, who was clear about his work’s Christian and Catholic elements, had his own thoughts on the matter.

The ‘George R. R. Martin wonders about Aragorn’s tax policy’ query came up in a 2014 interview with the author.

The sentiment from Tolkien about how his readers wanted more information than he could provide appears in Letter 187 in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien.  The specific passage in full: “Musicians want tunes, and musical notation; archaeologists want ceramics and metallurgy. Botanists want a more accurate description of the mallorn, of elanor, niphredil, alfirin, mallos, and symbelmynë; and historians want more details about the social and political structure of Gondor; general enquirers want information about the Wainriders, the Harad, Dwarvish origins, the Dead Men, the Beornings, and the missing two wizards (out of five). It will be a big volume, even if I attend only to the things revealed to my limited understanding!”

There’s a fair amount of attention to plants and trees in Númenor in these specific writings, especially in the introductory “A Description of Númenor.” A striking fan/botanical creation of recent years which looks into that and much more from the legendarium is the Flora of Middle-earth book by Walter and Graham Judd.

The Great Gatsby is out there.  But don’t forget Kate Beaton’s riff on it.

The Stone of Erech is an intriguingly strange artifact.

Carl Sagan had the gift of public presentation and high-end research chops in balance. An amazing combination still.

We’re sure Mary Matalin and James Carville love each other and all.

Support By-The-Bywater on Patreon and hang out with us in a members-only Slack (with a dedicated #tolk-talk channel)!

Subscribe to By-The-Bywater via Apple Podcasts | Overcast | Google Podcasts | Spotify | RSS.

3. Manwë, You’re Not My Dad!

Jared, Oriana and Ned discuss Jared’s choice of topic: Melian. The wife of one of the three original Elves in the legendarium, she herself is not an elf but a Maia, one of the divine figures in that universe. So what exactly does that make her? An emo kid with a fondness for dark forests? An alien figure looking around at all the Children of Iluvatar that surround her?  Or does she really just like nightingales a lot?

Show Notes.

Jared’s doodle this episode: Melian.

Need to know more about Bryan Cogman?  Here’s a recent Vanity Fair profile.

C’mon, surely you know John Cho.  But if you need to know more about Daniel Wu

The Maiar hold an interesting role in the legendarium.  Another famous Maia: Gandalf!

The Lady of the Lake—not just a Monty Python reference and joke.

Big Little Lies in Valinor could be a thing, sure.

Meet cutes!  You know them even if you’ve never heard the term.

“Take My Breath Away”—for two hundred years, though?

Game of Thrones and decapitation—it was a thing.

‘Amarth’ is ‘fate’ or ‘doom’ in Sindarin—thus an alternate name for Mount Doom, Amon Amarth. Which a Swedish band picked up on…

The Sidhe (pronounced ‘shee’) are not to be trifled with. 

I still love that the original version of Sauron was, indeed, a big black cat named Tevildo.

“My thoughts are not your thoughts,” aka Isaiah 55:8.

Not that we want to brush up on totalitarianism if we didn’t have to, but here we are.

Nightingales!  They like to sing, you see.

And yes, Keats sure had a thing for nightingales.

The Valar and gender—this essay also contains the passage Oriana reads.

Homosociality in Tolkien will definitely be a subject for future episodes, trust us.

Like I say, read “Aldarion and Erendis” and the associated material for the next episode if you can via a copy of Unfinished Tales.

Revolutionary Road was first a noted novel critiquing the then-just-departed American 1950s, then a noted film some decades later. Either way, you want social, domestic and romantic angst to the full? You got it!

Support By-The-Bywater on Patreon and you can chat Tolkien (or anything else!) with us in our members-only Slack.

Subscribe to By-The-Bywater via Apple Podcasts | Overcast | Google Podcasts | Spotify | RSS.

2. Tuor Is JUST a Guy!

Jared, Oriana and Ned discuss Oriana’s choice of topic: death. Not all of it, but a fair amount. Where exactly does free will come in for those in Middle-earth? What lies behind Tolkien's conception of death as ‘the Gift of Men’ which the Elves lack? What happens in the philosophical dialogue between Finrod and Andreth on death and fate? And just what is Tuor’s deal anyway? Plus, a mention of when a dragon and a farmer thought death was just a bother. Also we had some thoughts about the Tolkien biopic. It...could have been more memorable.

Show Notes.

The Megaphonic FM Patreon and the Megaphonic FM Teepublic store. Check ‘em out! Send some coin! Help Oriana buy a T-shirt!

The official Tolkien site—the film, that is.

Stephen Colbert also talked with Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins on The Late Show—because why wouldn’t he?

Caitlin PenzeyMoog’s piece on Tolkien for AV Club was one of the better ones -- and showcases the rather un-Tolkienian art the character produced in the film.

John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War is the definitive study to date of the time Tolkien and his close friends from youth spent in the conflict, and his own profound losses he suffered, combined with detailing the initial emergence of the legendarium.

The Tolkien Calendar 2020 preorder page—because it’s never too early.

The Tolkien Trust, the charitable entity set up by the estate.

Some more information on Pawnee beliefs in general.

Grant C. Sterling’s “The Gift of Death,” published in a 1997 issue of Mythlore, is a good general summary of how death is treated in Middle-earth, with specific reference to passages from The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings as well as Tolkien’s letters.

While recording the episode, Jared drew an interpretation of Mandos.

If you want a reminder about how strongly Tolkien felt about the Beren and Luthien story, this is all you need.

Tuor remains something of a divisive character in various ways.  Thus this discussion from a few years ago entitled “Why isn’t Tuor more popular?” where the first response concludes “he just comes off as kind of bland.”

Tolkien’s letter to Milton Waldman discussing The Silmarillion, published as a preface in later editions.

For a conservative Catholic take on “the gift,” Anna Mathie’s First Things piece from 2003 is of interest given Tolkien’s own similar theological beliefs.

The Book of Job, King James Version.

A note from Priscilla Tolkien about her father’s creation of “Leaf, By Niggle.”

As noted, “Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth” and various related notes and pieces are only found in Morgoth’s Ring.  But this page provides a useful summary of the main points raised by Finrod and Andreth in the dialogue, along with other selections and brief discussion on Tolkien’s conception of death in Middle-earth in his later years.

Annatar—Sauron’s guise to deceive the Elves in the Second Age, and to ultimately forge the One Ring—is as mentioned in Episode 1 one of the most shadowy characters in a shadowy time for the legendarium, and will almost certainly be a main character in Amazon’s upcoming series.

Fleabag is fantastic, full stop.

In the world but not of the world” is indeed part of the lingo, to put it mildly.

The question of foresight in Middle-earth is one of the most complicated ones in Tolkien, but also the source of some of his most literary and dramatic moments.

Ned got their name slightly wrong—it’s the American Bookbinders Museum, and it’s a very nice institution, worth a visit!

It isn’t live yet but look for the (very enjoyable and informative) appearance of Guy Gavriel Kay, Simon Vance and Ransom Stephens via SomaFM, who host audio recordings of SFinSF’s regular events.

Game of Thrones. It was a thing. Subscribe to the Patreon and you can hear us talk about it!

Subscribe to By-The-Bywater via Apple Podcasts | Overcast | Google Podcasts | Spotify | RSS.

1. It’s Finally Out in the World!

Jared, Oriana and Ned kick things off with an introduction to the podcast, recent developments in Tolkien news and adaptations, and how they all learned about Tolkien to start with. Treks to central Finland, developing languages as a teenage writer, initially trying (and failing) to read The Lord of the Rings, and slightly suspicious cover illustrations are all on the agenda.

Show Notes.

A quick sampling of Tove Jansson’s illustrations for The Hobbit. Be sure to learn more about Jansson herself!

Oriana’s Finnish travels!  Start here and just keep hitting the ‘next’ button.

Berwick-upon-Tweed per Wikipedia. It’s quite north, you know.

Amazon’s Second Age of Middle-earth map, as linked from their @LOTRonPrime Twitter.

Oriana’s recent Vox article “Dothraki Spoken Here” on conlangs, short for constructed languages, as featured in Game of Thrones, Avatar and more besides.

The official website for Tolkien, released via Fox Searchlight.

The Montclair Film Festival.

How much of a Tolkien nerd is Stephen Colbert? Beyond measure.

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, hosted by the Morgan Library in New York City.  You’ve got until May 12!

Marquette University’s Tolkien collection

The opening few minutes of Rankin-Bass’s The Hobbit.

A little more on the history of Topcraft in Japan and their Rankin-Bass partnership, along with more on the other Japanese studios Rankin-Bass worked with.

The ‘shippy’ Legolas-Gimli Two Towers cover mentioned by Oriana and Jared. They do seem very comfortable with each other.

More on Elias Lönnrot and the Kalevala, via an English-language page hosted by the Finnish Literature Society.

The conversation between Frodo and Gandalf on pity, mercy and ‘death in judgment’ as created by Peter Jackson and his team for The Fellowship of the Ring.

Seamus Heaney’s (very justly famed) Beowulf translation and presentation.

Alissa Wilkinson in Vox talking about how she couldn’t read Harry Potter when she was younger, per Jared’s observation on growing up in a conservative religious household.

Ned in Oxford in 1992 for the Tolkien Centenary conference, visiting Tolkien’s grave along with fellow attendees.  Spot the VERY-tousle haired guy near the headstone...

The J.R.R. Tolkien Fandom Oral History Collection project at Marquette.

Subscribe to By-The-Bywater via Apple Podcasts | Overcast | Google Podcasts | Spotify | RSS.