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E17 | Books | Lord of the Rings, Book Breakdown

Our most prepared-for episode to date, we employ the skills developed in our previous book episodes to analyze the Lord of the Rings trilogy! Join us for some drinks and a good series in this first of many Book Breakdowns to come!


What's on our Flight (01:28)

  • Dalton’s drinking: Redemption Straight Bourbon Whiskey. A sweet and smokey high-rye bourbon at the tasty price-point of ~$25. Starts nectar smooth and evolves a black pepper spice that stays with with you in the aftertaste. This bottle is absolutely worth picking up and trying, especially if you are looking to taste some of the spicier bourbons!

  • Nelson's drinking: Creature Comforts' Automatic Pale Ale. A mix of Mosaic and Crystal Hops are used to give this beer a fruity feel while maintaining a light color. The name is a reference to the slogan of a local restaurant, Weaver D’s, that inspired one of R.E.M’s most prolific albums – Automatic for the People. ABV - 5.2%, SRM - 5


What's On Our Minds (05:50)

It was hard to think about anything besides Lord of the Rings over the last few weeks, but we did manage to squeeze in some new fantasy!


  • The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King, the first in his 7 book fantasy/western series. I enjoyed this first novel, but had trouble connecting with the main character. With other things on my list to read I will not be continuing with the rest of the series just yet.

  • The Farthest Shore (Earthsea book 3) by Ursula K. Le Guin. Highly recommend the first 3 novels of this series if you enjoyed reading through Lord of the Rings! I am looking forward to the follow-up books which she wrote much later.

  • The Last Wish (Witcher Series book 1) by Andrzej Sapkowski. This set of short stories acts as a prequel to the rest of the Witcher novels, introducing Geralt of Rivea and Yennefer (briefly). Many of the episodes in the first season of the Netflix adaptation are taken from this book, so it is a good place to dip your toe in to the series.

  • Return of the King (Lord of the Rings book 3) by J. R. R. Tolkien (you know, in case you were not familiar with the series or author). Read in preparation for this episode in addition to watching through all 3 extended editions of the films!


  • Read the first 8 books of Pendragon (seriously? 9?!), currently on Raven Rise by D. J. MacHale. We often discuss this series that follows Bobby Pendragon as he travels to distant worlds, always aiming to shift them towards "good" as they come to a critical turning point.

  • Excited for the release of Hogwarts Legacy, an upcoming RPG video-game set in the Harry Potter universe in the 1800s. The official reveal trailer was released Sep 16th and looks to be extremely promising! We will definitely keep our eyes and ears tuned for news on this one.


The icebreaker question for this episode was submitted by Mike! (15:47)

If you could live in any fantasy universe, which one would it be assuming you were the hero? What if you were a commoner?

  • Nelson: As a hero,The Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson. One of the most interesting and beautiful magic systems in fantasy, and would be an absolute blast to wield! As a commoner, My Hero Academia, an anime where most of the population has a "quirk," a supernatural ability unique to the individual. Most abilities are fairly mundane, but a few rise to "superhero" status. As a commoner, Nelson would likely only be able to perform small magical feats, but it is better than nothing!

  • Dalton: I GOT to have me a dragon, my choice for a hero is Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, hands down. The mental connection, access to magic, and ability to ride a flying, fire-breathing dragon? Yes, please! As a commoner I would live in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Even without being the Avatar, there is a good chance I would have access to minor bending powers. If not, I would likely live in a relatively normal society in one of the three remaining nations. There is like an 80% chance my life will not suck, I will take those odds.

Mike, thank you so much for the question! If you are looking for us to answer a question, submit your question here.


Discussion starts at 29:58 in the episode

Here it is, our most prepared-for topic to date! To prevent ourselves from recording a 6 hour episode, we limited ourselves to one "Rabbit Hole" each, so you will hear us take advantage of that in the episode. Otherwise, our analysis essentially follows the 5 Books topics outlined in previous episodes.

Magic System

Lord of the Rings is a hallmark example of a soft magic system (for a refresher on magic systems, see our show notes from episode 4). The lack of definition and rules actually lends itself as a strength in the story, creating uncertainty, doubt, wonder, and awe for the characters and the reader. Magic forces the story to happen, ripping our dear hobbits from the safety of the Shire and propelling them along their grand quest. It is cloudy and nebulous in nature while maintaining the ability to generate stunning shows of power in key moments throughout the story. With the complexity and depth inherent in the setting of Middle Earth, a soft magic system was absolutely the right choice to generate connection and intimacy between the characters and the reader.

Nelson took this opportunity to explore his Rabbit Hole (Discussion at 42:17), the Rings of Power. We all know the famous quote:

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky, Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone, Nine for Mortal Men, doomed to die, One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne

But what actually happened to the rings? What are their origins, their powers, and their fates? Well, let us start at the beginning. The 16 rings for men and dwarves were forged in the middle of the Second Age by an elf named Celebrimbor along with his tutor, Annatar (who was actually Sauron in disguise). After they parted Sauron went on to create the One Ring, but Celebrimbor continued and forged 3 additional rings. These became the Elven rings, and were all the more powerful for being removed from the influence of Sauron and his One Ring. Narya, the Ring of Fire, offered powers of renewal, keeping of hope, and the strength to resist tyranny and despair. Narya is worn by Gandalf. Nenya, the Ring of Water, gave powers of preservation of life and lands and granted concealment. Nenya is worn by Galadriel. Vilya, the Ring of Air and the greatest of the Three, grants healing and preservation. Vilya is worn by Elrond. All three Elven rings leave Middle Earth from the Grey Havens with their owners, accompanied by Bilbo and Frodo.

The fates of the rings of men and dwarves is not so happy... All nine bearers of the rings of men were granted great power, wealth, sorcery, and elongated (possibly eternal) life. Their power corrupted them, however, and they fell under the dominant control of Sauron's will, becoming the Ring Wraiths. Their lives and fates were tied to Sauron's from then on, growing in power with him and fading to nothing upon his defeat. The dwarven rings gave similar powers of extended life, yielding increased wealth and power to the dwarves. Dwarves proved to be less easily subjected to Sauron's will and influence, so none of them were converted to Wraiths as were the men. However, the size of their hordes attracted dragons, who consumed four of the seven rings before Sauron could reclaim them, so ultimately they met destruction just the same.

Narration Style

Tolkien opted to use the third person omniscient, which was extremely popular at the time of writing. He plays with narrative distance throughout the stories, coming in for a "close" narration to share the thoughts of a desperate (yet hopeful!) hobbit, then becoming "distant" to show the development of large battle scenes. The narrator can be fully trusted, a benefit of the style as anything that is said is not clouded by the emotions and perceptions of a single character. However, this does create difficulty building relationships with the characters, a shortcoming that is covered well by the choice of a soft magic system (which lends itself to identification with the heroes). When a close narration is chosen, it is often one of the hobbits who guides us through the story, further helping the reader identify with the heroes. If one of the hobbits is not available for the scene, often Aragorn fills in (which, honestly, who would complain?).

Heroes and Villains

The story is ripe with meticulously developed characters on all points of the Hero to Villain spectrum, ranging from the noble and infallible Gandalf to the depths of villainy in the Witch King. The members of the Fellowship have unique and interesting character arcs, deepening the lore and attraction to the characters. Aragorn's arc of self-actualization is one of the most captivating examples in fantasy! Each of the hobbits grows and develops throughout the story, none more than Sam who supplies heartbreaking and awe-inspiring acts of heroism throughout the story. Tolkien finds huge success with well-developed side characters as well, such as Faramir, Theoden King, and Elrond. Each of these characters struggles with flaws that lead to moments of helping and hindering the party in ways that draw us in, despite their minor roles. Others like Gollum and Denethor are certainly not heroes, as their selfishness often directly hurts the heroes, but they are also not truly villains as their intent is not evil. The complexity of these characters generates additional depth and interest in the story that is invaluable.

To understand the true villains of the story, namely Sauron and Saruman, it is important to understand the origins of these powerful beings. I dedicated my Rabbit Hole to this topic, the Pantheon (Starts at 1:15:53). Eru, essentially the one "god" of the story, in the distant past created fifteen demi-gods known as the Valar. These Valar entered and shaped Arda, the world containing Middle Earth where the story takes place. Eru also created the Maiar, angle-like creatures that served the Valar. These beings wielded immense power and control over the elements and forces at work in the world.

One of the Valar, Melkor (later known as Morgoth), decided to attempt to overthrow the rest of the Valar. His attempt ended in a giant war where he was defeated and his spirit dispersed, ending the First Age. One of the Maiar that followed him, Mairon, followed in his footsteps and became who we know as Sauron. His attempt to gain power in the same way led to the creation of the Rings of Power and the end of the Second Age. Early in the Third Age, the Valar sensed a dark power growing again. Having learned from their mistakes in the first two ages, they decided to send an emissary of five Maiar, known as the Istari, to investigate the threat and unite a resistance against the evil. These five Maiar became known as wizards in Middle Earth, adopting the titles of Saruman the White, Gandalf the Grey, Radagast the Brown, and two unnamed Blue wizards. However, all of the Istari except Gandalf ultimately failed their mission, allowing Sauron to rise to power and again challenge the world in the the events leading up to the end of the Third Age.

Story Arc

As a trilogy, the Lord of the Rings goes through several tensions, challenges, and climaxes for each character, many of which we discuss throughout the episode. We also talk about the long falling action that was excluded from the film adaptations, a sad omission as it is truly a wonderful resolution for the 4 hobbits. It also gives a fitting end to Saruman, showing him to be pitiful and vindictive in defeat. Overall, the story rises and falls through the three novels, displaying a commanding skill and control with rising action and character development.

Thank you for listening through one of our longest episodes to date! We thoroughly enjoyed the preparation and execution of this episode, we hope you enjoyed listening to it! Make sure to check out Ender's Game in preparation for the next book episode scheduled to release in four weeks!


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