Good morrow Friday, comrades, travelers, and those of you who feel like a very tired slug, which is largely where I’m at right now. My friend and roommate Sydney Greve did me the immense courtesy in the reading and discussing of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, being the first book of the Lord of the Rings books, the Hobbit prequel notwithstanding. Idk what to tell you about spoilers, because at the point to which LOTR has saturated pop culture it’s bananas to think of there really being any possible spoilers, but if that’s something you’re concerned about…sorry, but also HOW?!
Sydney carries a great deal of love in her heart and knowledge in her head for these stories to the extent that she literally wrote her senior English thesis on them, so the rest of you nerds really need to level up. Anyway, this was a real good time and talk and I’m excited for you all to read it and chime in in the comments or on the Twittersphere or if you run into me at Target buying popsicles. [Syd isn’t on Twitter, but I will pass on all messages, especially any that confirm how right *I* personally am in any and all matters.]
Kelsey Widman: Welcome, warmly.
I don’t know what that means.
Sydney Greve: Me neither. My first impulse was to say “Warmly, welcome” back
KW: I kind of feel like I should be listening to the Fellowship soundtrack right now while we do this.
SG: Oh crap that’s a good idea…
KW: For those of you reading, you should know that, unlike previous shout/countershouts, this chat is happening while we are both in the same apartment, just sitting in different rooms typing out our thoughts.
SG: Ah yiss God bless Spotify
KW: As a starting question…what was your first experience with LOTR, books or movies?
SG: I watched the movies first, and I was somewhere around 15 or 16. I was INSTANTLY obsessed, and told my little sister the plots of the movies until she told me she never wanted to watch them.
I did convince her to watch them, FYI
And she loves them.
It took me a looong time to make it through the books, but I finished them some time in high school, too
KW: That’s so wonderful and annoying!
SG: Wonderful and annoying: an autobiography by me
KW: How much were you taken aback by some of the ~ahem~ time differences?
Because, as you know, I was taken ABACK.
SG: It REALLY shocked me that Frodo is like 50 when he finally leaves the Shire. I felt a lil betrayed, just because I had baby-face 18 year old Elijah Wood in my head
KW: Also I think Fellowship was the first PG-13 movie I ever saw, and my dad let me watch it at the same time as the brother closest in age to me who is two years younger, so, you know, that felt a little unfair at the time.
SG: YES. He’s so old and also so not??
Ooh that’s a low blow
Yeah, and I didn’t realize there was this huge 20-ish year gap in the book where Frodo is just hanging around the Shire getting older and not much else happens
KW: I don’t feel like I got a clear picture of what Frodo LOOKS like in the book, but maybe I just skimmed over it because I felt like I already knew
yeah okay can you give me ANY ANSWER as to why SO MUCH TIME HAS TO PASS
SG: Nah I feel like physical characteristics weren’t a huge concern for Tolkien. He would rather outline EVERY DETAIL of the landscape than spend more than a sentence telling you how the main character looks
KW: except for Aragorn
lotsa description on him
SG: Ugh I think that time had to pass so there were more parallels between Bilbo and Frodo
KW: which, understandable
SG: Yeah but Aragorn’s a babe, can you blame him?
KW: so Bilbo was 50 when he left the Shire for the first time in The Hobbit, right?
SG: I think so. I think that’s why Frodo wanted to put off traveling for so long, too, because he was very aware that he wanted to follow in Bilbo’s footsteps
One of my fave descriptions in this book is our first introduction to Aragorn, because it is so dramatic and perfect and it was translated SO WELL into the film
It’s one of those things that I wonder about what it was like for people reading the book right when it came out because I knew who it was IMMEDIATELY because of seeing the movie but otherwise it would kind of be like “who the fuck is this sassy twerp”
SG: Oh my gosh yes. Somehow I always forget how sassy the characters are, and it’s the best.
There’s this wonderful line where Gandalf tries to tell Frodo that some higher power might have had a hand in why the Ring came to him, and isn’t that comforting, Frodo? And Frodo just goes “It is not.”
I love how for the humans/elves/dwarves there’s all this posturing and magnificence and the hobbits are the ones who are like “um guys what the hell”
SG: Dear Lord I forgot that half of this soundtrack makes me unnecessarily nervous because it’s so intense and creepy…
YES that’s very true!
And you can tell that the Hobbits have worn off on Gandalf, a bit, because he just don’t have time for nonsense
KW: also the age dynamics between the main 4 hobbits are definitely more pronounced, because in the movies they’re all vaguely the same age and in the book Frodo isn’t quite ~condescending~ to the others but it’s clear that he’s older, which really messes with my earlier perceptions of them
omg Gandalf especially has NO TIME for Pippin!!
SG: Mm yeah that dynamic feels weird to me – especially since I feel like the movie kind of switches his dynamic with Sam
Like, book Sam is kinda childish, and movie Sam takes care of Frodo, who is basically a child
KW: Yes! In the movies Sam really had this protective role, where he was almost like a guardian/babysitter.
SG: And book Sam always calls Frodo “Mr. Frodo” or “Master” and that weirds me out
KW: Book Sam is like Frodo’s pageboy.
SG: Ew I wish that didn’t make sense
KW: As a child watching the movies, I was definitely confused by all the Mr./Master Frodo stuff
SG: Ooh did you know that Tolkien regarded Sam as the true protagonist of the book?
I think because he shows the most growth and change
KW: I mean, I still am, but now I know that it’s because Sam literally WORKS for Frodo in what almost seems to be like a familial indentured servitude??
KW: that’s actually fascinating
SG: Frodo does change, but in ways that just kinda fuck him up
But Sam actually has like good character development
And he’s the only character who can willingly give up the ring after possessing it
KW: I do like that there’s more complexity in Sam in the books–in the movies he’s just kind of a homebody dude that didn’t want to leave the shire but would for Frodo, but in the books he’s really conflicted because all he knows is home and he likes that security, but he also has these yearnings to see elves and explore
SG: Yes! It did really surprise me how Tolkien wrote his emotions, and the emotions of the other hobbits – they cry very easily, and they often seem very child-like
KW: ugh but okay speaking of character development one thing that did frustrate me in the book was how FAST Gimli and Legolas’ friendship develops
like they go from bickering about whose people started the feud to like one chapter later Tolkien just DECLARES that they’re besties now
SG: I mean kinda, but I did notice a few hints through out the book that weren’t out-right WE ARE BUDDIES but showed they were starting to care
KW: omg emotion in the book is super interesting
SG: Like Legolas dragged Gimli away from the Bridge of Khazad-Dum instead of just ditching him, which is kinda nice
KW: after Gandalf is taken down by the Balrog and the rest of the company gets out there’s just one line about how EVERYONE is crying and man I would have loved to see that in the movie
SG: And they had some serious bro-bonding after Gandalf died and Gimli realized Galadriel was hot or whatever
I wanted some tears from Aragorn, dammit
They do show Sam and Frodo crying, I think, but that might be it
KW: god I would love to see Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn cry
SG: And Legolas just looks vaguely perplexed – probs because he has a vague grasp on the concept of death
KW: idk how many times he announces he’s Aragorn son of Arathorn, but I think your dad would want you to shed some tears, man
I think Orlando Bloom’s general state of being is vaguely perplexed, so it probably wasn’t that much of a stretch
SG: Oh my gosh. Yeah I thought his lineage was some kinda secret, but Aragorn don’t give a fuck
KW: hahahahahaha NOPE
SG: Ah true. I don’t think he was given much direction, to be honest, so he just decided to derp around
KW: he spreads that shit ALLLLLL over the place.
SG: Ugh and Boromir starts throwing shade at him FROM THE GET GO
KW: SO TRUE
SG: Ok one thing that has ALWAYS confused me and I have no idea how to interpret it: Tolkien uses this image of a character “with a star on their brow” over and over again. What the fuck that mean
KW: one of my other favorite lines is when they’re about to leave Rivendell and Boromir blows this symbolic horn and Elrond is like “maybe don’t” and Boromir is like “I’m not just gonna sneak off on this journey like a THIEF!”
and it’s like “Boromir, do you get the point of this journey AT ALL”??
oh my god I don’t remember that but I am equally perplexed as to its meaning.
SG: Chill, Bo. We get that you’re macho or whatever but stop blowing your own horn
KW: Everyone in Middle Earth has face tattoos.
SG: That makes it so much better
It’s an image that’s used in a lot of the songs and poems
Which, speaking of, how did you feel about the songs and poems?
KW: oh too bad there aren’t many SONGS or POEMS in this book
SG: Tolkien, like, really wanted to be a poet.
KW: JK THERE ARE SO GODDAMNED MANY AND EVERY TIME I GOT TO ONE I ROLLED MY EYES
There were a couple of them that I was unsure if the meter and/or rhyme scheme even made SENSE
SG: Ok tho I feel like the only poems or songs that are any good are the ones ‘written’ by Bilbo, so congrats on that, Bil
KW: I scanned a couple stanzas of one to see and it kiiiiinda checks out but I feel like Tolkien was trying to make up his own form and…I was not into it
SG: Ok but I love the angsty poem Bilbo recites in “The Ring Goes South” when he’s just sad that he has to stay behind and have no more adventures
KW: I know we talked about this awhile ago, but can you imagine being the other Inklings and Tolkien rushes into pub and is like “Good news, y’all, I have written SOME MORE POEMS ABOUT ELVES.”
SG: And, like, do I have the poem about Aragorn memorized? haha whaaat why would I do that…
KW: do you think he made everyone learn Elvish
wait DO YOU
SG: God I hope he did
KW: wait which poem
where is it
SG: The short one about “All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost”
The old that is strong does not wither
Deep roots are not reached by the frost
From the ashes a fire shall be woken
A light from the shadows shall spring
Renewed shall be blade that was broken
The crownless again shall be king
Fuck yeah, nailed it
KW: ohhhh okay well that’s not THAT lame
SG: Plus it’s rhyme-y and easy to remember
Tom Bomadil’s poetry makes about zero sense, I think
KW: If I ever get married I want you to get up to “make a speech” and then just recite that and sit down
cryptic as fuck
SG: Will do
KW: EVERYTHING ABOUT TOM BOMBADIL MAKES ZERO SENSE
-WHY DOES HE TALK ABOUT HIMSELF IN THIRD PERSON
SG: Yeah I guess it was foolish of me to think anything would make sense about him
KW: -WHY IS HE KIND OF GOD, BUT ONLY IN A PARTICULAR AREA
SG: So some people theorize that he and Goldberry either represent Adam and Eve, or Father Time and Mother Nature
KW: I mean, apparently she’s from the river??
does he look old, or does he look young?
SG: I felt like I really GOT him when I took Modern Mythmakers and we analyzed that chapter, but all such knowledge and understanding has passed away and I am confused by him once more
KW: I feel like when Peter Jackson was reading the books to prepare for the adaptation he got to that part and was like “yeah…we’re not doing this.”
SG: They totally stole some of his speeches about trees and gave them to Treebeard in the movie
KW: ohhhhhh I thought they sounded kind of familiar!!!!
SG: Yeah I just really feel like good ol Tom isn’t meant for movie screens
Ok also why are dreams so important in this book? Is Frodo psychic???
KW: Also I think J.R.R. Tolkien only knew 3 normal human names: Bill, Tom, and Sam, and once those were out he was like “now everyone is going to have a minimum of 4 syllables to their name and at least 3 apiece”
SG: He had so many dreams that foreshadowed shit or just blatantly showed him events that were currently happening
KW: did the ring have anything to do with it?
SG: Ah but Sam is short for Samwise, remember?
KW: like maybe the ring gave him an extra sensitivity?
SG: Ooh I don’t know…that’s an interesting thought. I love that everyone has insomnia except for Sam, who can just sleep anywhere instantly
KW: way to just hit us over the head with name symbolism, John Ronald Reuel
SG: Dear old Jolkien Rolkien Rolkien Tolkien
KW: I will never get over that
SG: Ok one of the best throw-away lines in this book is where Aragorn says that Gandalf is “surer of finding the way home in a blind night than the cats of Queen Beruthiel”
KW: one of my favorite sections was when they’re in Lothlorien and Galadriel is showing Frodo and Sam a potential future in her weird looking-well thing and Frodo offers to give her the ring because of all the good she could do with it and Galadriel, though tempted, says that though that’s how it would start, it’s not how it would end
SG: Apparently she was a character that Tolkien was like “I have no idea who she is or why her cats are famous but I wish I knew”
KW: that’s AMAZING
SG: Ah whoops you were trying to go serious and I took it to that weird queen’s cats
KW: I was about to say that I hope Tolkien made all the Inklings read a full on novella about her and C.S. Lewis was like “so…how does this fit into the books” and Tolkien was like “oh…it doesn’t” and then idk maybe Clive threw a tankard at his head
but him NOT KNOWING is even better
SG: Please always refer to Lewis as Clive from now on
KW: I’m glad I know about the weird queen’s cats
btw how do you feel about that potential LOTR Amazon series that’s apparently “in the works”?
SG: I like the idea because I would love more LOTR goodness, BUT I feel like there’s so much about the movies that they did so well, and it might just be awkward to redo it, especially if they’re gonna try more green-screen bullshit like The Hobbit series
KW: oof yesssss…I think there’s a balance that studios are still trying to figure out between taking enough time and taking TOO MUCH time
SG: Oh crap, and I just realized they could film ANYWHERE, and I am very attached to New Zealand as the look of Middle Earth
KW: oh MAN
SG: Hm the more I think about it, the less I like the idea
KW: But wait what I want now is a version of Lord of the Rings that’s set in New York City
literally everything is the same
but they’re in New York City
same names, same costumes, same monsters
SG: Ok another thing that keeps surprising me about rereading the books is how much Tolkien steps out of the narrative to comment on things that happen WAY later. Like “he never came there again as mortal man”. Hoo, slow down, John, he’s got decades to live!
KW: the Eye of Sauron is at the top of Trump Tower
SG: Oh fun fact, the Beatles tried to make a LOTR movie.
John said no
KW: oh my god YES I remember that line and was like “whewwwww chill, J.R.R.!”
SG: But yes, I think that would make a fitting setting
KW: I literally have NO IDEA how to respond to that piece of information about the Beatles, but I know that it’s going to keep me up at night.
SG: Also, though, that scene in Lothlorien is very dear to me but only because I’ve read the romance between Aragorn and Arwen in the appendices
KW: ohhhh yeah I need to go do that, probably
SG: It just seems super vague in the context of Fellowship
KW: yeah there’s only like the BRIEFEST of nods to it, where you find out that also Arwen is Galadriel’s granddaughter
does Tolkien ever explain how elf procreation…works?
SG: Ah right isn’t that the scene where she gives Aragorn the green Elfstone thing
KW: because I don’t think I actually WANT to know…but I do want to know
SG: Dear Lord I never thought about that and I never wanted to
Uhhhh I mean I guess they have a similar anatomy to humans, but IDK how long they’re pregnant for or anything
KW: do elves age through childhood at a normal rate but then go through adulthood suuuuuuuuper slowly?
or do their childhoods also last centuries
GOOD LORD HOW LONG IS AN ELF’S GESTATION PERIOD
SG: Wow it would suck way more to be a kid for like 1,000 years
OR PREGNANT FOR 1,000 YEARS
KW: MAJOR YIKES
SG: Hmm ok so weren’t the Uruk-Hai spawned from gross lil pits or something
Because I’m pretty sure Orcs are just corrupted Elves, or they were at one point
KW: okay well now that we’re at elf gestation, we’ve been talking for close to an hour and there’s one more thing I for sure want to talk about before we wrap up
wait okay when do I learn the difference between Uruk-Hai and Orcs?
is there a difference?
SG: Uhhhh have they brought up the Uruks yet?
KW: I feel like they’ve referenced them, but not in like an INVOLVED way
SG: I think they’re Orcs cross-bred with men or something? So they can actually go out in the sun and they don’t hate it
I’m not totally sure, it was always kinda hazy for me
nope I don’t want to know how
SG: S L I M E P I T S
According to Jackson, I mean
KW: what is sex if not a slime pit
SG: How dare you
KW: man it feels weird to go to a super philosophical place now but here goes
SG: Hoo boy
KW: one of the most fascinating themes to me was division vs. unification
KW: they keep talking about how the ring will always isolate people from each other
and the fellowship is almost a response to that
SG: Oh woah that’s actually something I never really thought about
KW: not only do Legolas and Gimli become frands, the elves let Gimli into a place that’s been No Dwarves Allowed for a long-ass time
SG: True, true. And there were 9 in the Fellowship to echo the evil 9 of the Ring-Wraiths.
KW: I think during the Council of Elrond Boromir wants to know why they can’t all just use the ring together, and Elrond and Gandalf keep trying to explain that it doesn’t work like that
Yessss! I think it’s super interesting too that the Fellowship breaks up relatively quickly in the span of the trilogy.
Like, as a group they do not last very long, at least in physical proximity.
SG: Yeah! And it kinda feels like Boromir got killed off to make it an even number so everyone had a Buddy
But I forget that doesn’t happen until the beginning of Book 2
KW: yeah the end of Book 1 just
so anyway I’m curious to track that theme through the rest of the books
SG: Ok tho I like the movie version of Sam wading into the water bellowing “AND I’M COMING WITH YOU” more than the book version…
KW: okay yes that was super cute
SG: But yes that’ll be a fun concept… especially as they start banding whole NATIONS together
KW: definitely saw that clip in several youth group/camp sermon illustrations
SG: Aw how sweet
KW: because ~Jesus~
SG: I think I’ve basically only seen the Balrog scene used in sermon illustrations
KW: and on that note…thank you so much for doing this!!
SG: Yaaasss thank you so much for setting this up and reading these books that I have ranted about for years!
KW: We’ll see you again once I get through Two Towers (probably in several months). And I personally will see you in a few seconds.
SG: Meaning thanks for not just getting sick of hearing about it
Aw yiss, Two Towers here we cooooome
KW: Don’t let this get you hopeful for Supernatural though.
I will never.
SG: Wasn’t counting on it.
But for the record, I also told myself I never would
I would like to state that for the record after we finished formally talking about this, we were hanging out with our friend Taylor and between us we said some very mean things about these books and so I would just once again like to thank Sydney both for doing this and allowing me to continually roast something she loves without murdering me in my sleep [yet].
I’ll start reading Two Towers soon, but…it’ll probably be awhile so