The Tolkien Road – Ep. 33 – The Lord of the Rings – B1Ch10 – Strider

Concerning “Strider”, Book 1, Chapter 10 of The Lord of the Rings, wherein we learn more about the mysterious Ranger…
©2013-2015 rfcunha

Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through the works and philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien.  On this episode, we continue our discussion of The Lord of the Rings with Book 1, Chapter 10 of Fellowship, “Strider”, wherein we learn more about the mysterious Ranger, receive Gandalf’s letter, and find out about Merry’s run in with the Black Riders. We also discuss the wonderful “All that glitters is not gold” poem. By the way, if you haven’t already, please leave The Tolkien Road a rating and feedback on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think of the podcast. Enjoy the show!

Topics of discussion include (with approximate start time in):

  • Tolkien Haiku for Book 1, Chapter 10 (~3:00)
  • “Behind the Haiku” by Greta (~9:45)
  • Guest Haiku (~13:45)
  • Greta’s favorite passage (~16:45)
  • John’s favorite passage (~30:20)
  • Gandalf’s Letter (~32:30)
  • Gandalf’s whereabouts (~36:15)
  • Merry’s return (~39:15)
  • The good will of Butterbur and Nob (~44:30)

And much more!

By the way, to see the Tolkien haiku(s) that didn’t make it onto the podcast, scroll down.



Haiku submitted but not read on air…

Josh Sosa

Barlinman the fool
yet an honest fool mind you
fears the Pilgrim’s wrath


Feel free to add your own haiku for this chapter in the comments below. Keep ’em coming everyone!

Thoughts on a Silmarillion Film Pt 5: The TV Option’s Novel Effect

Having explained why I think 9 movies is the right number for a Silmarillion films series (Quenta only) as well as just what those 9 movies would be, I’ll now explain why I think a TV series would be the BEST way to bring the Silmarillion to life in a visual format.

In the last decade or so, the potential for high quality, multi-season storytelling on TV has emerged with a vengeance. At this point, I see fewer than a handful of movies (in the cinema or otherwise) every year, because most of my viewing is spent digesting the highly engrossing long form storytelling that I consistently see in shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and House of Cards. I find this sort of visual storytelling to be far more enjoyable because of its immersive nature. With a typical movie, I have about 2 hours to get lost in a world, and as soon as I am, I have to pull myself back out again, usually at about the point that I am just beginning to truly enjoy it. With a show like Breaking Bad, I can come back to the same alternate reality on multiple occasions, and even choose to continue my watching adventure when the credits roll at the simple click of a button.


A Matter of Escape

Thus, I see one overriding reason why The Silmarillion would be best served by a high-quality TV series: the peculiar ability of that format to allow the viewer to escape into the First Age of Middle-earth. After all, Tolkien named the phenomenon of escape as one of the key attributes of good literary fantasy, explaining how important it is that the reader (or in this case viewer) forget themselves and enter in to the reality of the secondary world. Only the very best movies can help a viewer get past the “willful suspension of disbelief” and into the mindset of “enchantment” in the space of two hours. A TV series, as anyone who has binge-watched Battlestar Galactica can tell you, will leave you captivated and hungry for more and more. [1]

Decompressed Storytelling

I could see The Silmarillion being told well in at least 6 seasons of 10 1-hour episodes. This would amount to 60 hours of visual storytelling. If one compares this to 9 3-hour films (what I suggested here), that’s 33 hours more in which to tell the story of Middle-earth’s First Age. Given that 9 films probably sounds like a whole heck of a lot, and one could theoretically pump out 9 seasons in the same amount of time it would take to rush 9 films, the TV option has the advantage of allowing for protracted instead of compressed  storytelling. In my next post, I will explain exactly how I would break it down by season.

Now, if one simply thinks of this as an opportunity for more swordfights and carnage, then one misses the point. What is needed is character development and the ability to flesh out the glory and bliss of the Blessed Realm (as well as the realities of Doriath, Gondolin, and Nargothrond) in a convincing way. [3] Breaking Bad was the series it was because we were able to witness Walter White’s descent into drug-lord depravity on a step-by-step basis, as the result of many little decisions beginning with the  sort of intentions with which most of us could sympathize. What if we had the time to see Fëanor developed in this way, to see the lack within the motherless child morph into a pride to rival Melkor’s? Indeed, what if we saw more of Sauron’s seduction, or were able to see firsthand the limitations and imperfect decisions of the Valar?

As I’ve said before, The Silmarillion, though unified overall, is not really a normal, straight-ahead story like The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. It’s a compendium of unified legends, and to truly do it justice, one needs to give it the time it takes to develop it properly.

NEXT: How I’d do The Silmarillion as TV series.

What do you think of my assessment? Do you agree that a TV series would be the better way of doing The Silmarillion? I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments below.

1 – Binge-watching is similar to the phenomenon of binge-reading after all. How many people read The Deathly Hallows in a day or two because they just had to know how it all ended?
2 – Quenta Silmarillion only. Should the series be a success, I could of course see a similar TV series being developed for the Second Age. And yes, I would love to see a stab taken at some of the peripheries of the Third Age as well.
3 – Remember, Quenta Silmarillion takes place over the course of uncountable years PLUS an extra four hundred years in the First Age proper. For those who felt Jackson’s Fellowship did the book a disservice by compressing the 17 years into 17 minutes, the re-telling of Valinor’s tales in the space of one movie would be unthinkable.

The Tolkien Road – Ep. 30 – The Lord of the Rings – B1C8 – Fog on the Barrow-Downs

Concerning “Fog on the Barrow-Downs”, Book 1, Chapter 8 of The Lord of the Ringsin which the Barrow-wight attacks…
©2013-2015 rfcunha

What is a Barrow-wight? Who are the men of Carn-Dûm? Is there any connection between them and the Black Riders? What’s up with Frodo’s latest mysterious dream? On this episode of The Tolkien Road, we discuss all this and more as we continue our discussion of The Lord of the Rings with Book 1, Chapter 8 of Fellowship, “Fog on the Barrow Downs.” By the way, if you haven’t already, please leave The Tolkien Road a rating and feedback on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think of the podcast. Enjoy the show!

Topics of discussion include:

  • What is a barrow?
  • What is a barrow-wight?
  • Who are the men of Carn-dûm?
  • Saying goodbye to Goldberry.
  • How this chapter shows the vast ancient history of Middle-earth.
  • Frodo’s dream.
  • And much more!

By the way, to see the Tolkien haiku(s) that didn’t make it onto the podcast, scroll down.



Haiku submitted but not read on air…

Josh Sosa:

Steel of the West reclaimed
to combat Shadow.

Mary Grace:

A Barrow-wight strikes
The hobbits who became lost
Evil gold has found
Carn Dûm in Angmar
Felled Men of Westernesse
They forged blades Tom found


Bombadil haven
Behind. Cold barrow downs can’t
Swallow Frodo’s heart.
Arcane and ancient
Evil has only to drag
All under with it.
Feel free to add your own haiku for this chapter in the comments below. Keep ’em coming everyone!

Concerning Tolkien’s Faith Pt 2: Of Insignificant Hobbits

‘[T]he wheels of the world’, are often turned not by the Lords and Governors, even gods, but by the seemingly unknown and weak… – Tolkien

In considering the impact of his faith on his creative works, it is probably best to begin where most of us start when it comes to Tolkien: with hobbits. Ironically, though hobbits are Tolkien’s most popular subcreation, they are in fact the most insignificant of the rational beings in the Middle-earth universe.

Hobbit Hole ©2012-2015 Sherlockian

After all, Elves and Men were the prophesied Children of Ilúvatar and Dwarves were fashioned from the imagination of the mighty demigod Aulë. Even the Ents arise from the desire of Yavanna, goddess of growing things. Nowhere does Tolkien explain how hobbits came about, and we’re not really given a hint of what their final destiny will be. They just sort of show up at some point in the middle of the Third Age, and remain an afterthought in the minds of the great powers for centuries until the Ring, by some strange accident, comes to Bilbo.

The Secret Life in Creation

In this, we see manifest a major Tolkienian theme, that the greatest significance was reserved for the seemingly insignificant. In the letter that serves as the preface to The Silmarillion, he says this:

“[T]he great policies of world history, ‘the wheels of the world’, are often turned not by the Lords and Governors, even gods, but by the seemingly unknown and weak – owing to the secret life in creation, and the part unknowable to all wisdom but One…”

Now if one attempts to read this statement apart from Tolkien’s faith, they are probably going to wind up thinking that he is simply being sentimental here. Obviously, the good professor is just wrong. It IS the powerful, the Lords and Governors, who make the great policies of world history. After all, that’s their job as Lords and Governors, to do the important stuff. Yet Tolkien was not simply telling an underdog story with his Middle-earth works, nor a populist one. So what exactly did he mean?

It all hinges upon “the secret life in creation . . . the part unknowable to all wisdom but One.” This is an enigmatic assertion, but I believe that Tolkien is pointing to a hidden reality that the great and powerful tend to ignore. On one hand, this is the mysterious power of nature itself, what Hopkins called “the dearest freshness deep down things.” Yet Tolkien, like Hopkins, feels led to tie this power of nature in with a supernatural providence, a hidden wisdom.

An Unexpected Design

Thus, hobbits, the most insignificant of all rational beings in Middle-earth, represent an unexpected design in the divine plan. It is Gandalf alone among the powerful who is able to recognize this, but even then he doesn’t really understand how it will play out. Neither Sauron nor Saruman pay any mind to hobbits before the work of providence gets its head start.

In all of this, one can see a strong parallel with the story of Christ, the one upon whom Tolkien was convinced all of history turned. Christ came not as a mighty king but as a helpless infant. Throughout His life, he continued down this path; though He was God, “He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.”

Blessed are the Insignificant

St. Paul frequently came back to this theme in his writings: “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” Why is this? I can’t help but think that God is, at heart, not only the Creator, but also the Creative, the poet and storyteller par excellence. But more on that in the next installment.

I’ll close this entry in the series by saying that while most of us will never achieve any sort of great significance in our lives, especially not the sort that will find us being remembered well a few years past our deaths, I nevertheless take great consolation in the knowledge that, as one of the legions of insignificants, it is perhaps that God instead has His own significance mapped out for my life, a deeper and indeed greater meaning that I might miss if I tried to grasp significance on my own terms. I can live with that; it’s good to be in the company of hobbits and the Son of God.

NEXT TIME: God the Storyteller…

Where do you see this theme manifest in Tolkien’s work? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

The Tolkien Road – Ep. 28 – The Lord of the Rings – B1C6 – The Old Forest

Concerning “The Old Forest”, Book 1, Chapter 6 of The Lord of the Ringsin which Frodo and company enter the perilous realm beyond the borders of Buckland…
©2013-2015 rfcunha

On this episode, we continue our discussion of The Lord of the Rings with Book 1, Chapter 6 of Fellowship, “The Old Forest, in which Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin set out on their journey through the Old Forest and encounter a far more dangerous road than they expected. Chapter 6 also introduces the mysterious Tom Bombadil, one of Tolkien’s most enigmatic figures. There’s a lot to talk about, including:

  • Who is Old Man Willow?
  • Why does the Old Forest seem alive?
  • The beauty of the word “Withywindle”
  • Our favorite passages from this chapter
  • The location of Tom Bombadil’s house
  • And much more!

By the way, to see the Tolkien haiku(s) that didn’t make it onto the podcast, scroll down. And here’s the Atlas of Middle-earth by Karen Fonstad that we mentioned on air, as well as the wonderful book on Tolkien’s art by Wayne Hammond and Cristina Scull.

I hope you enjoy our conversation. And of course, if you haven’t already, please leave us a rating and feedback on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think of The Tolkien Road. Enjoy the show!



Haiku submitted but not read on air…

Josh Sosa:

Slowly creep the roots
Windless forest sways all ways
lo Old Man Willow!

Mary Grace:

Hobbits leave the Shire
The Old Forest leads to Bree
Unknown awaits them

Frodo has the Ring
But Merry leads them onward
Frodo insists so


What ancient anger
Brings the forest to swallow
Hobbits whole and live?

Does the Forest live?
The Withywindle winds through,
The blood in its heart.


Entering a spell
Only Sam suspects foul play
A hero again

A tree whisperer
Singing, carrying lilies,
Saving hobbits. Weird.

And here’s the wonderful short ballad-form poem submitted by Trevor the Computational Linguist:

They ride into the forest bleak
Beneath forboding leaves.
Behind the tree-trunks dark things peek,
And winding paths they weave.
The Withywindle bubbles quick
Along it’s Southward track
The Willow stands and plays his trick:
A murderous attack.
Old Bombadil did hap’ thereon,
The tree his voice would heed,
And still the road goes ever on,
Now, from the darkness freed.

Keep ’em coming everyone!

The Secret Connection Between The Lord of the Rings and the Annunciation

“I know exactly what you mean by the order of Grace; and of course by your references to Our Lady, upon which all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded.” (172)

In a 1953 letter to Father Robert Murray, Tolkien admitted that “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision” (172). Tolkien meant that “the religious element was absorbed in the story and the symbolism” (172). While the story contains no explicit reference to Catholicism or Christianity, it is nevertheless heavily infused with them. It is true that Tolkien abhorred allegory and preferred to write stories without heavy and direct symbolism. Nevertheless, on this Feast of the Annunciation, it is worth noting one very clear and quite intentional reference to Tolkien’s faith at the heart of The Lord of the Rings.

The Annunciation – Henry Osawa Tanner – Public Domain

Continue reading “The Secret Connection Between The Lord of the Rings and the Annunciation”

Movie Review: The Hobbit – The Battle of the Five Armies

‘You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? …You are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!’

– Gandalf to Bilbo

I had the opportunity to see The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies today. Overall, I have found Jackson’s take on The Hobbit to be OK, which is pretty much what I expected. I was far more hopeful early on when Guillermo del Toro was on board to direct (Pan’s Labyrinth is amazing and beautiful and very Tolkienian). With del Toro, you had a proven fairy-story teller and director. With Jackson, you have a visual effects genius and a solid filmmaker with a flare for epic battle scenes. So for me, when I hear folks griping about all of the faults in Jackson’s second Middle-earth trilogy, I just have to say “What did you expect?”

Continue reading “Movie Review: The Hobbit – The Battle of the Five Armies”

Five Thoughts on Frodo’s Failure

[Frodo] ‘apostasized’… (Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 234)

We are accustomed to our heroes succeeding. Luke hits the bullseye and blows up the Death Star. Harry (finally) defeats Voldemort. For those of you who have read or seen The Lord of the Rings (you probably want to stop here if you haven’t), you’ll know what a surprise it is to find that Frodo ultimately fails to deliver Sauron’s Ring to final destruction. In fact, the Ring’s destruction appears to be an accident. What are we to make of Frodo’s failure?

©2014-2015 breathing2004

Continue reading “Five Thoughts on Frodo’s Failure”