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The Prancing Pony Podcast – Tolkien and Middle-earth

Exploring the life and work of J. R. R. Tolkien. Hosts Alan Sisto and Shawn E. Marchese welcome readers of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and the other works in the Middle-earth legendarium to tune in as they discuss favorite passages from the books and films that started the worldwide fantasy phenomenon.
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The Prancing Pony Podcast – Tolkien and Middle-earth
2018
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May 27, 2018

As Chapter 17 of The Hobbit begins, the Lonely Mountain is under siege. Thorin — hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in Middle-earth — refuses to negotiate, knowing Dain is on his way. When Bilbo’s plot is revealed, Thorin goes into a rage and orders him gone (“‘Order’, eh? ‘Oo does ‘e think ‘e is?”); but just as all looks hopeless, goblins attack, and we see the… well, you know. The Battle of Five Armies begins, and we look back at Tolkien’s famous essay “On Fairy-Stories” to explain the sudden turn of events.  

May 20, 2018

In Chapter 16 of The Hobbit, little Bilbo takes matters (and the Arkenstone) into his own hands and makes a deal with Bard and the Elvenking, who presumably don’t already have one, in an attempt to end the standoff peacefully. We consider just how short-sighted Thorin’s position really is, discuss how Bilbo totally owns the whole “honest burglar” thing, and finally welcome the return of one of Tolkien’s most beloved characters. Plus still more raven voices, and a question from Barliman’s Bag about Gandalf’s D&D character sheet that makes us reach for a lifeline.

May 13, 2018

In Chapter 15, birds again show that their value in The Hobbit far outweighs their inability to carry a coconut. Bilbo and the Dwarves learn of Smaug’s death from the wise old raven Roäc, but they also learn that a host of Elves and Men is on its way to the Lonely Mountain —probably not to help redecorate. Will Thorin give charity to those in need, or has the dragon-sickness already taken root? We discuss the surprising similarities between Thorin and some of Tolkien’s greatest villains, and croak our way through more avian dialogue than ever before (or again, we hope).

May 6, 2018

We cut away to Lake-town for Chapter 14 of The Hobbit, as the people of Esgaroth slowly realize that the lights coming from the Lonely Mountain are not the triumphant King Thorin flooding the river with gold, but a very angry dragon. The town worrier turns town warrior and leads the people in a valiant defense, but the cost is high… and everyone looks to the Mountain for compensation. We discuss how Bard the Bowman narrowly escaped death by a stroke of Tolkien’s pen, and try one last time to resolve the question of thrush-language.  

Apr 29, 2018

Trapped in the side-door tunnel at the beginning of Chapter 13 of The Hobbit, “Not at Home,” Bilbo leads the party in the only direction they can go: down. At the bottom they find no sign of Smaug, and the Dwarves rejoice at the recovery of their lost treasure. Only Mr. Baggins realizes that the celebration is premature and wonders where the dragon is. We examine the Arkenstone and the many meanings of a deceptively complex chapter title, and if you thought cram was hard to eat, wait until you hear how hard it is to figure out its etymology.

Apr 22, 2018

In the second half of Chapter 12 of The Hobbit, Bilbo returns to Smaug’s lair to find the dragon waiting for him. Luckily he has on his ring, but the dragon senses his presence, and soon he is locked in a battle of wits with the wily worm. Bilbo’s Tookish side comes out as he plays at riddles, but Smaug quickly turns from cunning to cranky, and looks for someone to take out his aggression on. Before any of that, however, we have a little fun with young Tolkien’s first dragon story, explore a rare biblical reference in Middle-earth, and engage in some wild speculation on the identity of the mysterious King Bladorthin.

Apr 15, 2018

As we begin Chapter 12 of The Hobbit, Bilbo the burglar is finally ready to enter Smaug’s lair alone, if only to get away from yet another self-important speech by Thorin. Braving the sleeping dragon, he manages to remove one piece of treasure from the hoard. But one piece at a time won’t cut it, and Smaug knows when something has been stolen. We delve into a Middle English proverb, Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf, and the life expectancy of dragons. Plus, we get to know another special guest in our second-ever North Wing segment.

Apr 8, 2018

In our second Prancing Pony Podcast Q&A episode, Alan and Shawn answer live questions from guest patrons on diverse topics, from the fate of Dwarves after death to which character we’d cosplay as… if either of us ever left the house, of course. Hear your hosts attempt to pronounce Eorl and wax philosophical about who the true hero of The Lord of the Rings really is (hint: not Eorl). Plus, a friendly warning that some of the youngest Tolkien fans are not happy with a recent answer to Barliman’s Bag. 

Apr 1, 2018

In Chapter 11 of The Hobbit, Bilbo and the Dwarves finally reach the Lonely Mountain, but they don’t know where the hidden door is. Then they find the door, but they don’t know how to open it. Fortunately, they do have an ancient map and a very lucky Hobbit with them, and they’ve arrived just in time. While Bilbo looks back to the west, missing his hobbit-hole, we talk once again about how he is the only person keeping this quest afloat. Plus a foolish Tolkien Fun Fact, and astronomical calculations to confusticate your average Dwarf… or podcast host.

Mar 25, 2018

Happy Tolkien Reading Day! On March 25 every year – the date of the fall of Barad-dûr – Tolkien lovers worldwide celebrate by reading the Professor’s works aloud. The theme for 2018 is Home and Hearth: the many ways of being a Hobbit. From the Shire to Cirith Ungol and back again, Alan and Shawn rattle on like Gaffer Gamgee at the Ivy Bush, reading passages from The Lord of the Rings that illustrate Hobbit ways.

Mar 18, 2018

Please keep your arms and legs inside the barrels at all times, until the ride comes to a complete stop in Lake-town where our heroes arrive, barely, in Chapter 10 of The Hobbit. Most of the Lake-towners have forgotten the past, but some still sing about the return of a nigh-legendary King under the Mountain. While Thorin soaks up the town’s adoration, only Bilbo seems to realize that the Mountain has not been won yet, and the most dangerous part of the journey is yet to come. We take a moment to appreciate the vast improvement in the depiction of Dwarves from Tolkien’s earliest writings, and look again at fate and free will.

Mar 11, 2018

It’s the world’s worst whitewater rafting trip in the second half of Chapter 9 of The Hobbit! Bilbo reveals his plan for escaping the Elvenking’s halls. His friends are, quite understandably, less than enthusiastic, but with both time and ideas running out, it’s into the barrels they go! As they float away to freedom (or death), we learn more about Elvish wine, Dwarvish claustrophobia, and Hobbits’ legendary fear of water. Also, an excuse to talk about Eärendil (as if Shawn needed one), and historic moments from the War of the Ring remembered in a special Tolkien history segment.

Mar 4, 2018

The rest of the Dwarves are taken by the Elves in the first half of Chapter 9 of The Hobbit. Bilbo avoids capture thanks to his ring, only to get stuck hiding for weeks in the Elvenking’s halls. Fortunately, Mr. Invisible Baggins keeps busy with more than just pilfering food, and soon an escape plan begins to take shape in the king’s impressive wine cellars. A listener question leads us to consider the difference between burglars and thieves, and Tolkien’s unfinished poetry offers another classic tale of Elves under the influence.

Feb 25, 2018

In our final episode on Chapter 8 of The Hobbit, Bilbo dispatches the Mirkwood spiders and rescues his friends, though it must be said that one beard sadly perishes in the effort. Thorin, however, has already been taken prisoner by the Elvenking, whose name is conspicuously missing from the pages of this book. We revisit the early chapters of The Silmarillion for a quick reminder about the difference between Wood-elves and the High Elves of the West, and finally learn why baby Tolkien was tougher than our kids will ever be.

Feb 18, 2018

The second of three episodes on Chapter 8 of The Hobbit. As Mirkwood continues with no apparent end, our heroes get desperate and stray from the path when they see Elves feasting in a clearing nearby. They try three times to crash the party, but each time chaos ensues, and soon Bilbo finds himself alone in the dark with several Spiders of Unusual Size. We witness Bilbo’s most Tookish moment yet, learn about several games of the aiming and throwing sort, and rack up a number of reasons to apologize to Mr. Gordon Sumner.

Feb 11, 2018

In the first episode of our trilogy on Chapter 8 of The Hobbit, Bilbo and the Dwarves enter Mirkwood and quickly learn the true meaning of the term "pitch-dark.” As the days drag on, their hunger and desperation grow, and there seems to be no end to the forest… but at least the spiders here are just small ones of Ordinary Size. We discuss Tolkien's folklore inspirations for the dark wood on the edge of the world, the enchanted stream, and more, then lighten the mood with an imaginary photographic tour of Middle-earth.

Feb 4, 2018

We resume Chapter 7 of The Hobbit. Bilbo and the Dwarves spend a few days as the guests of Beorn, comfortable despite the occasional late-night sounds of a hungry bear on the other side of the door. After verifying their story personally, Beorn agrees to help the party with food, advice, and more… but he still doesn’t trust the Dwarves completely. We go further into the nature of Beorn and his place in the overall legendarium, and a Tolkien Fun Fact gives us a much-needed reason to revisit our favorite ursine from the Father Christmas letters.

Jan 28, 2018

Chapter 7 of The Hobbit begins with a rude awakening in an Eagle’s eyrie. But our heroes are soon off on their way again, and find themselves at the home of Beorn the skin-changer. Is he a man that changes into a bear, or a bear that changes into a man? Find out as we explore the linguistic and mythical inspirations for one of Middle-earth's most enigmatic characters. We also remember a poignant letter J.R.R. once received from a friend on This Week in Tolkien History, and ask you to bear with us as we discuss our favorite music inspired by the legendarium.

Jan 21, 2018

Alan and Shawn are delighted to welcome Michael Drout to The Prancing Pony Podcast! As co-founder and co-editor of the journal Tolkien Studies and multiple books on the Professor, Drout is one of the most prolific Tolkien scholars in the field today. We talk to him about his personal discovery of Tolkien, the future of Tolkien studies and fandom, and Beowulf. Plus, we discuss the very highest quality of The Lord of the Rings Online players, and how to write a new Old English poem more well-known than some of the originals.

Jan 14, 2018

We pick up Chapter 6 of The Hobbit with our heroes literally up a tree. Gandalf keeps the wolves at bay by playing with fire, but when the goblins arrive, things quickly heat up for Bilbo and his friends. Just as the situation begins to go up in smoke, unexpected help comes from above. We talk about the Eagles, their role in the legendarium, and the dangers Tolkien saw in using them too much in his stories. We also do a quick background check on Gandalf and recite some more goblin poetry bad enough to make a Vogon (and your hosts) cringe.

Jan 7, 2018

As Chapter 6 of The Hobbit opens, Bilbo emerges from the mountains and soon hears the familiar voices of Gandalf and the Dwarves. He sneaks up on them with the help of his new ring, and finally wins some respect with his stealth and the tale of his escape. But the happy reunion proves short-lived; the company move on, coming to a clearing in the woods… and find themselves surrounded by howling wolves. We revisit the nature of wargs, showcase our limited botanical knowledge, and enjoy yet another philological joke from Professor Tolkien.

Dec 24, 2017

In what is likely to become an annual event, join Alan and Shawn as they use the wayback machine to revisit episode 028 in this special director's cut re-release of our episode on Letters From Father Christmas. Marvel at how far we've come since our early days, but mostly enjoy the charming adventures of Tolkien's creations at The North Pole!

Dec 17, 2017

We conclude our trilogy of episodes on Chapter 5 of The Hobbit. Gollum begins to realize that Bilbo has his ring, and Bilbo begins to realize what it does. He uses its power of invisibility to escape from Gollum, but stops short of killing the wretched creature: an act of pity that will have great implications for Bilbo and for Middle-earth. We turn again to the first edition to see how Tolkien’s minor edits changed the ring from a magical trinket into an artifact of power with a will of its own, and your hosts thankfully retire their Gollum voices until The Lord of the Rings.

Dec 10, 2017

Our second episode on Chapter 5 of The Hobbit. Tension mounts as the riddle contest between Bilbo and Gollum continues, with Bilbo’s life at stake. His luck saves him in the final round, but when Gollum accuses him of not playing fair, he’s still very much in danger. We compare the current text to the first edition to see how Tolkien transformed Gollum from a hungry, but honest, monster into a “miserable wicked creature” corrupted by the One Ring. And we welcome a listener to The North Wing of the Prancing Pony in a new segment!

Dec 3, 2017

The first of three episodes on Chapter 5 of The Hobbit. Bilbo wakes up in the darkness below the mountains, and soon finds himself in a life-or-death riddle-game with one of Tolkien's most infamous creations: Gollum. We begin to discuss the changes made to this chapter during the composition of The Lord of the Rings, as Tolkien’s understanding of Gollum and the ring changed. Also, we look to the Professor’s own words for context about the newly announced Amazon series in a new segment: The Tolkien Quote of the Day.

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