💎 Tolkien Treasures #007: May 2023 Plus Reader Mailbag
New Silmarillion Audiobook, Tolkien and A.I., The Rings of Power Design, and More!
May Tolkien Treasures
Hello all! As I do at the end of every month, today I’m sharing five things—some Tolkien-related and others not—that I’ve been enjoying this month. Here they are:
11 Questions with J.R.R. Jokien on 11ses—I was interviewed on today’s episode of 11ses, a podcast where listeners “take a brew break with Keela Dee as she talks about her favorite fiction and nonfiction stories, 11 points at a time.”
Next month on June 22, HarperCollins is releasing a new audiobook version of The Silmarillion narrated by none other than Andy Serkis! Andy has already recorded audiobook versions of The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, and I hear rave reviews about from those who have listened to them, so I’m confident this will be another quality outing from him that both the casual and devoted Tolkien fan will enjoy.
Check out this clip of him reading a passage from The Silmarillion:
(Video via HarperCollinsUK on Twitter)
Tolkien, A.I., and the Temptation of the Machine - over the past month there were many videos generated using artificial intelligence that attempted to simulate what entries in various franchises would look like if they were directed by Wes Anderson. One particular video attempted to do this with The Lord of the Rings. I briefly considered writing about why these videos are so disturbing in general and especially why specifically using Tolkien’s work in them is deeply distasteful, but then I read the following newsletter by, who said everything about Tolkien’s view of “the machine” and how that relates to the purpose and uses of A.I. that I would have said (plus a lot more I wouldn’t have thought to include) and did a much better job than I would have.
Tolkien believed that we are constantly tempted to usurp the role of God and impose our will upon the world, whether the world—and the creatures living in and with it—likes it or not. This temptation “will lead to the desire for Power, for making the will more quickly effective - and so to the Machine (or Magic)” (Letters #131, p. 145). Time and again this temptation leads to downfall in Middle-earth.
Read the rest here:
Inside The Utopian Cities of Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power—interviewed Ramsey Avery, the production designer for The Rings of Power about designing a utopian world for ROP, modern architecture, Tomorrowland, what an ideal future might look like, and more. Read it here:
Looks Like Meat’s Back on the Menu! Candle—As you might have figured out by now, I love a clever LOTR reference, so I had to pass along this amazing father's day gift idea from Mythologie Candles for the dad who loves grilling—or meat of any kind, really—and LOTR.
This is a a limited run by Mythologie Candles: they only made 500 of these, so if you want one, don’t wait on it! Check it out here.
BONUS: Why Saruman Shouldn’t Have Been Cut from Return of the King—there was just too much good stuff to share this week, so here’s one more for you! An excellent analysis of the reasons given for Saruman’s death being excluded from The Return of the King as well as the arguments for why it belongs in the film.
Question for the comments: what is something you’ve been enjoying this month?
What Paid Subscribers Got This Month
This month’s essay focused on insights from Aragorn’s visit to the Houses of Healing.
Additionally, this month I introduced the Jokien with Tolkien Discord server!
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Reader Mailbag: Ask Jokien
There's been some internet buzz about a LOTR theme park for a while. With the potential for new or rebooted movies soon, what would you like to see in a theme park? Mr. Frodo’s Wild Ride? Gandalf's Vape Shoppe?
First of all, I love the ideas that you suggested! For reference, I’m going to mostly use analogies to rides at Disneyland/World since I believe they’re a fairly familiar set of references. To add on a few more to your great suggestions…how about a Splash Mountain sort of ride where you’re in one of the boats the Fellowship takes from Lothlórien that includes passing the Argonath and culminates in a steep drop off the Falls of Rauros? And sticking with the aquatic theme for a moment and taking inspiration from your name, there absolutely needs to be a barrel ride where you escape like Thorin and Company from Thranduril’s prisons in the Woodland Realm and travel down the river to Laketown.
A Paths of the Dead ride similar to the Haunted Mansion or a haunted house could be very interesting! And a ride where you journey with Bilbo through the Lonely Mountain and experience the final part of The Hobbit would be exciting and fun to see as well.
An Indiana Jones style ride going through the Mines of Moria would be epic! Especially concluding with Gandalf’s confrontation with the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm.
And I’d be remiss to not include a ride that included the Eagles somehow. Perhaps a Peter-Pan (or Soarin’ Over California!) style ride where you fly over various locations in Middle-earth? Or a Dumbo style ride where you board your eagle and fly around in a circle for a while.
What do you wish Tolkien had covered in his writings that he never got the chance to address (or didn’t think to)?
—Wishing Upon An Eärendil
Wishing Upon An Eärendil,
Well a definitive answer about whether Balrogs have wings or not would have been nice and is at the top of my list! And what happened to the Ent-wives? Also, what was Aragorn’s tax policy? (Just kidding, George R.R. Martin)
Being a bit more serious, my initial thoughts on this question mostly have to do with things that I wish that he had finished rather than things he never got to address. For instance, as much as I love and appreciate his son Christopher (assisted by Guy Gavriel Kay) working to piece together a version of it from Tolkien’s various writings, I’d have loved to see a published version of The Silmarillion that was complete and whole, 100% authored and finished by Tolkien himself. I’d also love to see a version of Galadriel’s history that was finalized and had fewer inconsistencies.1 And for all his love of languages and the meticulous detail that went into Quenya and Sindarin, he never really fleshed out the Dwarvish language of Khuzdûl,2 the Black Speech, or any of the other languages he mentions or gives bits and pieces of in his works. So that would be interesting to have seen developed further by him.
But if we’re only talking about things Tolkien never really got the chance to address, the main one that I wish he had gotten the chance to tell is what exactly happened to the Blue Wizards in their journeys into the East and South of Middle-earth. How did their mission to subvert and thwart Sauron’s activities go? Was he aware of them? Did they directly come into contact (or combat) with him? And did they ultimately make a difference or were they defeated or rendered basically ineffective?
The history of each of the Nazgûl is also a topic Tolkien never really addressed that I would love to know more about. Only two are even named: the Witch-King of Angmar and Khamûl the Easterling. We also know three of the nine are Númenórean, but that’s where the details end. Who were these men lured into the service of Sauron by promises and gifts of power? Did any begin with noble intentions? What did the process of the rings pulling them into darkness and enslaving them to his will look like?
But as much as I would like more details and answers, there are some things that Tolkien never addressed that I think are intended as enigmas and I think would be better if they stay that way. Yes, I’m talking about Tom Bombadil! I don’t need to know a single thing more about him. He’s perfect as is: a delightfully befuddling figure emerging fully formed but with almost zero context or backstory into the narrative and disappearing just about as suddenly and mysteriously.
What other ideas do you all have for rides at an LOTR theme park or things you with Tolkien had covered? I’d love to hear them!
There we have it, my Five Faves and the Reader Mailbag for May. Farewell, friends. Go towards goodness!
Special shoutout and thank you to Amy M. and deegeurts for upgrading to a paid subscription this week! This is a reader-supported newsletter so if you enjoy these updates each week, please consider supporting this Substack by upgrading to a paid subscription, which is only $4 a month (or $32 annually—that’s 33% off the monthly price) for a limited time!
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I’ve been a little heavy on the serious essays content this past month but am planning on changing things up a little next week: stay tuned!
All typos are totally on purpose. Links may be affiliate, which is a free-to-you way to support this newsletter where I earn a small commission on items you purchase.
Christopher Tolkien famously comments in Unfinished Tales, “There is no part of the history of Middle-earth more full of problems than the story of Galadriel and Celeborn, and it must be admitted that there are severe inconsistencies ‘embedded in the traditions’; or, to look at the matter from another point of view, that the role and importance of Galadriel only emerged slowly, and that her story underwent continual refashionings.”
The lines of Dwarvish that appear in the Peter Jackson movies are neo-Khuzdûl, created by others who made inferences about what the language Tolkien described but never really gave much of a vocabulary or structure to might work based on his stated and inferred influences.