Look, if you’re a fan of Tolkien and have some listening time, you should check this one out. Corey Olsen is a professor of things medieval, Christian, and literary, and is a MASSIVE fan of all things J.R.R. Tolkien. His long-running podcast has grown to include several different series. He has seminars on several Tolkien and Tolkien-related books, courses on other famous fantasy books, Q&A episodes, interviews with people like Tolkien artist Ted Nasmith, and even fascinating reviews of The Hobbit films.
If you just look at his podcast list in iTunes, it can be overwhelming, but fear not! His website organizes all his many series and links to each episode. And they’re all lively and entertaining to listen to!
Some of my favorites are his courses going through The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion chapter-by-chapter. Even after some two decades of being a Tolkien reader myself, I still learn new things from these. Olsen’s work has also expanded to include courses on other subjects, such as medieval literature that Tolkien knew and loved, and even free courses through Mythgard Institute on other great works of fantasy and science fiction.
If all this college-level material (however entertainingly delivered) sounds too intense for you, fear not! He’s also been leading a merry band of conspirators on dreaming up just what an ideal Silmarillion TV-show would look like –freed from the depressing constraints of money and marketing, of course! It’s a fun exercise in speculation.
What Tolkien book would you recommend to a reader after they’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings?
There are a few possibilities for this one, depending on your tastes. But my first answer would be The Silmarillion. This is the book with all the tales of how Middle-Earth came to be. It has the history of the Elves, Men, Dwarves, and a bit of hobbit history too, although for such unadventurous folk their origins are rather mysterious. It is a magnificent tapestry of hundreds of stories that all form a cohesive, meaningful whole. Anyone who reads the tales of Bilbo and Frodo and wants to know more about Middle-Earth should turn first to The Silmarillion.
But perhaps you’re intimidated by the size and density of The Silmarillion? You’ve heard it described as “the Old Testament with Elves” and worry that it will be too dry or complicated to jump right into. Even in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s language has a dense, old flavor to it that can be hard to swallow for readers unfamiliar with that style, and the promise of more stories told in a still denser, older style can intimidate even those who want to experience the stories themselves. In that case, I would recommend The Children of Húrin. This book tells one of The Silmarillion’s stories in an expanded form closer to a short novel. The language is still high and beautiful, but it’s a quicker, more self-sufficient read, and will give you a good taste of what to expect in The Silmarillion. I do warn you, it’s a dark, tragic tale, but as epic and moving as they come. If you like it, you can rest assured that you will find more of that quality in The Silmarillion, but also many stories that are happier and more hopeful.
Next up: Is the Phantom of the Opera abusive or romantic? (You can discuss the musical or the book version, or the differences between the two.)
Forgive me for not mentioning this a few months ago, but Dr. Corey Olsen — a.k.a. The Tolkien Professor of so many incredible podcast episodes — has been running a free weekly online seminar going through The Lord of the Rings chapter-by-chapter. Every Tuesday at 9:30PM EDT.
He broadcasts live on Twitch, and there’s an active chat room on Discord that runs simultaneously. Sometimes he even responds to viewer comments and questions! There’s also a forum here where you can carry on discussions throughout the week and post questions in advance for him to answer during the broadcast. I’ve done that a few times and definitely found my appreciation of Middle-Earth broadening.
If you play The Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO), he’s actually broadcasting from within the game, and you can join him and other players there in Hobbiton. But even if you don’t play the game, as I don’t, you can watch and take part in the discussion. After the chapter discussion, he takes viewers on a field trip through locations in the game that correspond to the locations that have just been read about in the book, and discusses the ways in which the game developers have interpreted Tolkien’s writing.
I’m in the middle of tonight’s broadcast right now, and hope some of you can join us later. Godspeed!
“I hardly saw any other children; only one was my friend, and my blackness did not keep him from loving me.”
Recommend a diverse classic. Or you can argue that a diverse book should be a classic or should be included in the canon. Or you can argue that the book should be a classic, but that you don’t want to see it in the canon.
A diverse classic? That’s an extremely vague phrase which could technically be interpreted in countless ways, but I get the gist. In the English-speaking world, the standard literary classics almost entirely come from Europe and the countries which developed from European colonies. It can also be argued that the most famous, mainstream works tend to deal with similar subjects, perhaps from similar or familiar perspectives. This is a chance to discuss a book that either comes from a different cultural milieu or deals with subjects or perspectives that are rare or unique in the Western literary canon. Continue reading “Classic Remarks: Recommend a Diverse Classic”
Lewis’ message is that we should all look at Susan, see ourselves, and shuddering turn from folly to wisdom.
Susan Pevensie’s fate in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle has been criticized for being sexist. Do you think it’s sexist or is Lewis trying to do or say something else?
[Obviously, there will be SPOILERS for the final book of the Chronicles of Narnia, and by extension for some of the previous volumes.]
The scene in question comes at the end of Chapter Twelve of Lewis’ Last Battle. Our heroes—Tirian the last King of Narnia, the Earth-children Jill and Eustace, and a few loyal friends—come unexpectedly face-to-face with the most legendary visitors to Narnia: Diggory and Polly, who witnessed Narnia’s creation in The Magician’s Nephew, and the original Pevensie children from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—minus the oldest sister, Susan. Aslan had told them all at the end of previous adventures that they would never again come into Narnia, for they had grown too old. The reason for their apparent return is revealed in later chapters, but at the moment they are merely glad to be back. But Tirian immediately has a question for High King Peter:
“If I have read the chronicle aright, there should be another. Has not your Majesty two sisters? Where is Queen Susan?”
“My sister Susan,” answered Peter shortly and gravely, “is no longer a friend of Narnia.”
“Yes,” said Eustace, “and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says ‘What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.’”
“Oh Susan!” said Jill. “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.”
“Grown-up, indeed,” said the Lady Polly, “I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that way. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”
Is Romeo and Juliet a tragic love story or an ironic comedy? Should we take the play seriously when its protagonists are so young?
Having not the time to read the play again and do the sort of long, hard analysis I used to struggle over in college, I beg you to accept my quick thoughts on this matter, jotted down in the subjective and haphazard way that memory brings them to me.
I have always taken Romeo and Juliet as a tragic love story, sharpened and livened with both comedy and abundant irony. I do not view it primarily as an ironic comedy. That is, I do believe we are meant to take the story seriously.
The tragedy is certainly very serious, ending as it does in several unnecessary deaths and provoking enough sober reflection as to end a long and bitter feud between two callous and political families. And the love story is deadly serious to the lovers, whatever we may think of their immaturity and age. Indeed, their immaturity and age are what allows them to act so single-mindedly on their passions, for better and for worse. The better leads them to forsake the hateful feud between their families; the worse leads them to have too little thought for the consequences of their actions, leading to the deaths of some of their friends, and eventually of themselves.