The Forge of Tolkien

I first read The Lord of the Rings when I was eleven. My mother gave me the boxed set (see above) for Christmas, and I read all four books in one trip to our grandparents’ house by New Year’s. Imagine my 11-year-old self struggling with the hobbits across Middle-earth as my mother drove us across the middle of America from Kentucky to Texas (and back again), and you will get some sense of the effect that it had on me.

Of all the things that drew me to become a medieval historian, reading (and re-reading, and re-reading, and re-reading) Tolkien is at the top of the list, although it took me decades to admit it. Tolkien lived in my imagination somewhere between stories I remembered reading as a child and my first (magical) visit to England with a school trip in high school—not really real, certainly not the stuff of serious scholarship.

Latin and Chartres drew me to study the history of medieval Christianity, not elves, hobbits and dwarves.

Or so I told myself.

And then Peter Jackson came out with his movies, and a friend suggested doing a course on Tolkien for the undergraduates at the University of Chicago. Just, you know, as a way of getting them interested in medieval history. My friend went on to write a historical novel based on the exercises we did with our students in sub-creating with Tolkien. I have been teaching the course every three years ever since.*

To prepare for the course, I spent a year reading Christopher Tolkien’s 12-volume edition of his father’s drafts—the scribbles and revisions that never made it to press. I immersed myself in the scholarship on Tolkien, fan-girled Verlyn Flieger and Tom Shippey at the International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, and kicked myself for not having taken Jane Chance’s Tolkien course when I was an undergraduate at Rice.**

Over the years, like Jane’s, my course became immensely popular, sometimes attracting over 100 students a quarter (big for a Chicago course). Every year, the students were invited to “make still by the law” in which Tolkien had made—stories and poems and music and drama inspired by his own longing to “make a body of more or less connected legend” which he could dedicate “to England.”*** In 2011, I set up a blog for the students to post their reflections on the discussions we were having in class. The blog (Tolkien: Medieval and Modern) now includes essays from four years’ worth of conversations, indexed by theme as well as by year. This past Spring, the class met on Zoom—which meant we were able to record our discussions as videos—but, alas, those I cannot link here.

Would you like to know more about Tolkien, his love of languages and history, and how he came to write The Lord of the Rings? It is my great pleasure to announce a new series of videos which I have been invited to make for, called The Forge of Tolkien. My plan is to record one episode per week. List of episodes will be updated as new episodes are recorded and aired.

Come, journey with me across Middle-earth! I promise to take you there—and back again! Each episode should stand alone as an exploration of a particular theme, but the series overall will follow the general arc of the course that I have taught at the University of Chicago, taking seriously Tolkien’s invitation to sub-create and exploring the roots of this invitation in his understanding of our own creation as sub-creators in the image and likeness of God.


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Episodes recorded to date (updated November 6, 2021):

1. “I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?”  

How many of you read Tolkien’s stories and wish you could find yourself in the tale? Professor Rachel Fulton Brown introduces her new series, The Forge of Tolkien, with a meditation on Tolkien’s word-smithing as an invitation to enter into the Greatest Fairy Story Ever Told. —Aired July 29, 2020

2. A Mythology for England 

What did Tolkien mean when he told Milton Waldman that he wanted to write “a body of more or less connected legend” that he could dedicate “to England,” sketching it in part, while leaving “scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama”? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown talks about Tolkien’s understanding of mythology and its relationship to country, as well as what it means to take up his invitation to participate in this story-telling, and why it is a fundamentally Christian exercise to write fan fiction within Tolkien’s legendarium. —Aired August 6, 2020

3. Mythopoeia

Are myths true? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown reads Tolkien’s poem “Mythopoeia” as a riddle about the relationship between poetry, sub-creation, and the reality of myth. We explore the structure of the poem and its language for clues as to how Tolkien convinced his friend Jack Lewis to read myths not as “lies,” but as invitations to sub-create in the image and likeness in which human beings are made. —Aired August 11, 2020

4. Who is Tom Bombadil? 

Enigma or allegory? Unimportant or essential? Tom Bombadil is Master—but what does that mean for the hobbits and their adventure? Professor Rachel Fulton Brown traces Tom Bombadil to his source in story and song. —Aired August 18, 2020

5. Stories for Children

Critics from Edmund Wilson (The Nation, 1956)  to Andrew Rissik (The Guardian, 2000) and Richard Eyre (The Guardian, 2004) have described The Lord of the Rings as “essentially a children’s book,” a monument to kitsch and Tolkien’s inability to face the real issues that concern adults in the modern world. In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown contrasts the critics’ insistence that Tolkien was writing for children—or childlike readers—with Tolkien’s own insistence that he was writing for adults, not children at all. What was at stake for Tolkien in writing fairy stories “for children”—and did it have any effect on his “heartfelt loathing” for Disney? —Aired August 26, 2020

6. A Taxonomy of Dragons

When is a dragon “dragon enough” and when is it an example of “draconitas”? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown explores the “wilderness of dragons” Tolkien invented for his children’s stories, including The Hobbit, and contrasts them with the argument he makes for taking dragons seriously in his essay “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” How is Smaug like and unlike Beowulf’s bane? And how many dragons are there in a “wilderness”? —Aired September 2, 2020

7. Time-travel Toss-up

Frustrated that no one was writing the kinds of stories they liked to read, Tolkien and his friend C.S. Lewis did a toss-up: Lewis agreed to write a space-travel story, and Tolkien agreed to write a time-travel story. Lewis went on to write—and publish—his Space Trilogy, but Tolkien got lost wandering along The Lost Road with Bliss-friend and Elf-friend. In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown reads the first chapter of what was supposed to be Tolkien’s time-travel story for what it tells us about Tolkien’s own autobiography as an author. —Aired September 9, 2020

8. A Notion of Time

What kind of frame would it take to write a convincing time-travel story? What if you were a scholar and wanted to travel back in time? What if your friend had written a space-travel story, and you found the frame unconvincing? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown introduces The Notion Club Papers, Tolkien’s second effort at writing a time-travel story, and reads them for what we can learn about Tolkien’s own desire to travel back in time. To be continued! —Aired September 15, 2020

9. A Deeper Delve: Tolkien Trivia

Are you the kind of Tolkien fan who reads the Appendices in The Lord of the Rings and is still hungry for more? What if you had Appendices for Tolkien’s life? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown takes a tour through Christina Scull & Wayne G. Hammond’s 3-volume J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide (2017), delving deep into the Chronology, Genealogies, Bibliographies, and Guide. What is the difference between trivia and knowledge? How does knowing what Tolkien did on 7 September 1955 help us understand his creative work? And what does “Ae Adar Nín” mean in Sindarin? —Aired September 23, 2020

10. Falling Wide Asleep

What did Frodo mean when he said that returning to the Shire at the end of the hobbits’ journey through Middle-earth felt “like falling asleep again”? What kind of journey had the hobbits been on? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown reads Night 61 of The Notion Club Papers, following Ramer as he describes his experiments with time-travel—and dreams. Ramer’s exercises are shown to have a curious similarity with T.S. Eliot’s invocation of time in Burnt Norton (1936): “Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future,” raising the question of what Eliot and Tolkien had been reading about the nature of time. As a bonus, we learn what meteorites remember—and why it is dangerous to dream-journey without a guardian. —Aired September 29, 2020

11. Norman Keeps [Norman Castles]

Tolkien famously insisted in the Foreword to the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings that, “in the intention of the author,” the story had no “inner meaning or ‘message’... It is neither allegorical nor topical.” Rather, Tolkien said, he had always preferred “history, real or feigned”—without explaining which he thought he was writing in the story of the Ring. In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown tackles the puzzle of what Tolkien meant by history and its relationship to myth through a close reading of Night 64 of The Notion Club Papers. We meet the barber Norman Keeps and his stories about the Dark Ages, compare the barber’s version of English history to the history everyone remembers in W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman’s 1066 and All That (1930), and look out with Lancelot and Guenever on Arthur’s Merry England in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (1939-1958). Was Tolkien simply crafting an elaborate joke claiming that he was writing history—or did he have a more serious purpose in interweaving the mythical with the historical? Pro tip: It will help to have watched Professor Fulton Brown’s second interview with Dr. E. Michael Jones on “Logos vs. Usury” (video on the History and Logos channel on before watching this episode. —Aired October 6, 2020

12. A Taste for Tongues 

What flavor is English? Is it the same as Welsh? What does it mean to love many different languages, and yet to have a “native” language that is different from one’s mother tongue? Can Elves tell the difference between Man and Hobbit? Can Hobbits understand Elvish even if they don’t know the words? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown explores Tolkien’s theorizing about language as something we are born with and yet learn; something that has flavor as well as sense, that might come in dreams as well as with our blood, and yet is at once personal and inherited. We meet Alwin Arundel Lowdham and his linguistic “ghosts.” And we learn the difference between Avallonian and Adunaic—and how to say “gods” in both. —Aired October 14, 2020

13. Ichor and Potatoes

After chanting his verses about Eärendel the Mariner in the Hall of Elrond at Rivendell, Bilbo challenged the Elves to determine which bits he had written and which Aragorn. The question was a trick (Aragorn only added a bit about a “green stone”), but it was also serious: why should the Elves be able to tell the difference in poetic style between a Hobbit and a Man? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown explores Tolkien’s use of poetic style as a way into the problem of writing fantasy. Drawing on Ursula K. LeGuin’s advice to aspiring fantasists, she considers the importance of speech in the act of (imaginative) creation and how style is critical to the composition of Christian literature. Which is better when writing fantasy: ichor or potatoes? A style reaching for the sublime, or a style willing to humble itself even unto Hobbits? —Aired October 23, 2020

14. The Ent in the Moon

Tolkien insisted that he did not consciously invent many of the details in his stories, including most famously the Ents. These characters, he insisted, were compounded of “philology, literature, and life,” drawing on particular words from Old English, stories like Shakespeare, and the actual differences between “male” and “female” attitudes towards gardening. In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown explores the roots of the Ents in the Old English poem “The Ruin,” Tolkien’s work for the Oxford English Dictionary on words beginning with “w,” the Green Knight in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the song Frodo sang at the Prancing Pony—and its “Mannish” predecessor about the Man in the Moon. What do giants have to do with towers and the “stain” on the Moon? It is all part of the mystery of “asterisk reality” and the love of Logos. —Aired October 27, 2020

15. Through a Glass Darkly

Tolkien insisted in his letter to Milton Waldman that there was no “Magic” as such in The Lord of the Rings, at least not “magic” associated with the Elves. Elvish “magic” was rather “Art” “delivered from many of its human limitations,” while the devices of the Enemy were better labeled “Machines,” especially in their use for dominating others’ wills. And yet, of the “magical” devices that appear in The Lord of the Rings, the most powerful—with the exception of the One Ring—were made by Elves, most particularly the Palantiri or Seeing Stones through which Sauron projected his Eye. In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown explores the tension between “Magic” and “Machines” as a problem for Christians in their use of similar devices from the Renaissance to the present day. Why did Galadriel invite Frodo and Sam to look into her Mirror if she knew what it showed could be dangerous if acted upon? What did Pippin see when he looked into the Palantir of Orthanc—and why did he scream? —Aired November 5, 2020

16. Magic Words

Enter Faerie, and you expect enchantment—the power of words, spoken or sung, to transform the world. But how can (or should) a Christian author invoke such spells without falling into the very temptations that the Ring or other magical devices like mirrors and palantiri would warn us about? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown questions the role of magic words in fantasy literature generally and Tolkien specifically. Tolkien’s understanding of the power of the adjective is contrasted with the power of naming (Ursula LeGuin) and “root hunting” (Robert Graves), both of which are read in the context of one famous medieval book of word spells, The Sworn Book of Honorius (“Liber Iuratus Honorii”). Is there such a thing as “good” magic? How do spells differ from prayer? What role ought naming play in the Christian response to creation? In memoriam JOY, the best dog ever (November 8, 2019-October 27, 2020) Recorded as she lay at my feet. Her name was her truth, my joy. RIP. —Aired November 18, 2020

17. On Fairy Stories

In 1938, Tolkien gave a lecture at St. Andrew’s University on the topic of “fairy stories,” ostensibly meaning to explain what “fairy stories” were. In the course of the lecture, however, Tolkien spent more time explaining what they weren’t—travelers' tales, beast fables, dreams, children’s stories—than, it would seem, explaining what they were. Why did Tolkien find it so hard to define fairy stories other than in the negative? What was he thinking of when he defined them not as stories about fairies, but as stories about “Faërie,” aka the Perilous Realm? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown reads the published version of Tolkien's lecture for clues about what Tolkien intended his own fairy stories to achieve. We pull back the veil of Fantasy to learn why real fairy stories have happy endings—and why our reading of Tolkien's own stories has only just begun. —Aired December 22, 2020

18. Around the Tale-fire

“Now it happened on a certain time that a traveller...” What do we find when we set out on the journey to Faërie? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown opens the door to the Cottage of Lost Play and welcomes the folk and the children to gather round the “Tale-file blazing in the Room of Logs” to hear stories of the Elder Days when England was known as Tol Eressëa and the towers of Kortirion could be glimpsed in Warwick. What do we make of Tolkien’s archaic pseudo-Biblical language and his Tennysonian verse in his earliest attempts at writing his legendarium? Why is it so hard to craft a convincing tale? And which song do we find ourselves in? —Aired December 30, 2020

19. The Olde Speech

In December 1954, Hugh Brogan (then age 18) wrote to Tolkien to complain about the “archaizing” style of parts of The Lord of the Rings, particularly the chapter “The King of the Golden Hall.” Tolkien drafted his response but never sent it, deferring a proper discussion to a time when they could meet in person. When is archaizing “tushery,” and when is it necessary? What is the difference between a bogus and a genuinely “antique” turn of phrase? In this episode Professor Rachel Fulton Brown reads the “linking” passage in The Book of Lost Tales taking Eriol from the hall of the Tale-fire to Rumil’s garden to illustrate Tolkien’s process in discovering his proper style. What did Tolkien mean when he told Brogan he found it easier to think in an archaic mode, and why did he chide Brogan for his “parochialism of time”? Hint: The distance is as great as that between Globe Earth and Flat Earth! —Aired January 12, 2021

20. The Voice of Saruman

Standing at the base of the Tower of the Cunning Mind, Gandalf warned Pippin and the others to beware of Saruman’s voice—but what power did Saruman of Many Colours have over the company, if his most dangerous weapon was his speech? In this episode, recorded on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 2021, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown considers what Tolkien reveals about the dangers of trusting politicians by way of his characterization of Saruman and Gandalf as “messengers” of a particular kind. What kind of creatures were the Istari, and why did they have the powers—and limitations—that they did to influence events in Middle-earth? What does Saruman’s temptation and fall reveal about the meaning of Power, and how did Gandalf defeat such a powerful foe? —Aired February 21, 2021

21. The Music of Creation

In the beginning there was Eru, the One, who made the Holy Ones, the offspring of his thought, and propounded to them a great theme. But whose story was this, and how did it come to be written down? Who, other than the Father of All, could know the story of Creation to tell it? And how would such stories be known to Elves and to Men? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown introduces Tolkien’s story of Creation as a puzzle both of framing and of purpose. Who speaks in the telling of the Music—and why should Creation happen through song? And what should a Christian think about the Ainur’s singing such a mighty theme? —Aired February 23, 2021

22. Melkor and the Leviathan

As the Ainur sang the themes unfolded to them by Iluvatar, the greatest of their number, Melkor, or “he who rises in Might,” became impatient that Iluvatar took so little thought of the Void. Conceiving thoughts of his own, Melkor began to make a music of his own, troubling some of the Ainur, but drawing others to his theme. Soon there arose a great storm about Iluvatar’s throne, as the two musics strove against each other—until Iluvatar rose and incorporated Melkor’s discord into his own. What place did Melkor’s discord have in the story of Creation? Why did Iluvatar not simply strike Melkor down? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown explores the backstory of the angels’ fall as it appears—and does not appear—in the Scriptures upon which Tolkien drew for his characterization of the Ainur. What does Melkor have to do with Satan? What role did the sons of God have in bringing wickedness to the world? And where does the Leviathan come in? —Aired February 27, 2021

23. The Breath of the Gods

In this episode Professor Rachel Fulton Brown reveals the mystery of the Trinity hidden within Tolkien’s account of the Valar—and shows why, to create the world, the Ainur had to enter into it. Keys to the mystery are shown to lie in Owen Barfield’s explanation of spiritus and in Dorothy Sayers’s explanation of metaphor. You will never think about the Trinity the same way again—especially if you know what it is like to write a book (or a joke or a poem or a play or anything you might make with words). —Aired March 17, 2021

24. Melkor’s Fall

What is evil? In this episode Professor Rachel Fulton Brown follows Melkor step-by-step from his singing with the Ainur to his fall into sin, breaking open the mystery of Genesis to answer the age-old question: “If God created everything, did He make the Devil?” What is the difference between Darkness and Evil? Between Not-Being and Anti-Being? Between Hamlet, Not-Hamlet, and Anti-Hamlet? To be or not to be, that is the question! —Aired March 24, 2021

25. Aulë and the Nephilim

What was so wrong in Aulë’s desire to make creatures of his own in the likeness of the Children whom Ilúvatar intended to make? What kind of power did Aulë intend his making to have? And where did Tolkien get the idea that the Valar should be able to make things like children? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown considers the stories told in Genesis and the Book of Enoch about the ‘sons of God’ who had children with the daughters of men as sources or models for Tolkien’s efforts to create a mythology including “beings of the same order of beauty, power, and majesty as the ‘gods’ of higher mythology, which [could] yet be accepted…by a mind that believes in the Blessed Trinity.” What did Aulë do that Azazel did not? And where does Grendel fit in? —Aired March 31, 2021

26. What Did Tolkien Read? 

It is often said, “If you want to understand a man, read his books,” but if you want to understand the books a man wrote, you need to understand the books that he read, too. In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown explores the books in Tolkien’s library, more particularly, the books catalogued by Oronzo Cilli in Tolkien’s Library: An Annotated Checklist (2019) to determine what we can know about the sources of Tolkien’s imagination, particularly his Catholicism. We encounter some expected—C.S. Lewis, Andrew Lang—and not so expected sources (spoiler alert!), while also looking into Tolkien’s students and the lectures that he gave as a professor at Oxford. Have you ever wondered why Thomas Aquinas is so hard to read? Did Tolkien actually dislike allegory as much as he pretended? And what was it like for Peter, James, and John to see Jesus transfigured on the mountain and hear the Voice saying, “This is my beloved Son, hear Him”? —Aired April 7, 2021

27. The Two Trees

Did you ever wonder why the badge for The Forge of Tolkien looks so much like the candelabrum of the tabernacle described in Exodus 25? What would you think if I told you that you were right? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown traces the White Tree of Gondor back to its origins at the beginning of time, when Yavanna Kementári sang the Two Trees of Valinor into life to learn why “of all things which Yavanna made they have the most renown, and about their fate all the tales of the Elder Days are woven.” Pro tip: Have a Bible handy while you are watching! —Aired April 14, 2021

28. The Mischief of Elves 

Poll: Are you with Sam “Elves, sir! I would dearly love to see them” Gamgee—there can never be too many stories about Elves? Or are you with Tolkien’s fellow Inkling, the long-suffering Hugo Dyson, said once to have exclaimed when presented with yet another Elf-story: “Oh, [redacted], not another Elf”? Tolkien spent his life writing about Elves—but do we even know what Elves are? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown introduces the Elvish Question in English literature, taking us back to the Middle Ages to suggest why Tolkien was so fascinated with them—and why he found it so hard to stop writing about them. Special focus on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, for those who want to hear more about Ents. —Aired April 21, 2021

29. Fear of Elves 

Sam may have been eager for stories about Elves, but Men like Faramir and his brother Boromir were wary, fearing and misdoubting the Elves, even as they knew little about them. But were they not right to fear Elves? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown considers the Elvish Question further. What was at stake for Tolkien in telling stories about Elves? Why are his Elves so different from those found in other modern fantasy, for example, Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies or John C. Wright’s The Green Knight’s Squire? Why should Elves like Galadriel seem both beautiful and perilous to Men? —Aired April 28, 2021

30. Letter 43 

In early December 1940, Tolkien’s second oldest son Michael, then aged 20, was injured in an accident and admitted to Worcester Royal Infirmary. While there, he formed an attachment with his nurse, Joan Griffiths, and seems to have told his father that he purposed to marry her. In March 1941, Tolkien wrote a long letter to Michael about sex, marriage, and the ways of women and men, seemingly to discourage Michael from making a hasty commitment. No more inclined to listen to his father than his father had been to listen to his guardian, Fr. Francis Morgan, Michael married his nurse on November 11, 1941, three weeks after turning 21. The marriage produced three children and lasted until Joan’s death in 1982; Michael followed her to the grave in 1984, and they are buried together at St. David’s Franciscan Priory in Wales. Perhaps his father’s letter did its job after all? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown offers a close reading of Tolkien’s argument in Letter 43, raising the question students always ask: was Tolkien a misogynist—or simply wise about the trials of living in a fallen world? —Aired May 5, 2021

31. Splintered Light 

Quendi, Eldar, Calaquendi, Moriquendi, Vanyar, Noldor, Teleri, Sindar, Nondor, Úmanyar, Avari—what’s in a name, and why did the Elves in Tolkien’s legendarium have so many of them? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown focuses the lens of her attention on the refraction of the Elves through the crystal of language to unlock the mystery of sub-creation as a splintering of light from “a single White to many hues…endlessly combined in living shapes that move from mind to mind.” No, there isn’t an easier way to say this, which is why Tolkien had to do it with Elves! Along the way, we meet Wood-elves, Light-elves, Deep-elves, and Sea-elves; learn where the Elves awoke and what were the first things that they saw; and consider the relationship between the literal and metaphoric, Light and Word, as revealed through the sundering of the Elves into their various kindreds. H/t Verlyn Flieger, Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien’s World (2002). —Aired May 12, 2021

32. Gemstones of Paradise 

“Three great jewels they were in form,” but of what substance were the Silmarils made? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown traces the making of the Silmarils back through the description of the jewels in The Book of Lost Play to the place where the literal becomes metaphoric and the metaphors become real. What is the relationship between the making of the Silmarils and the dew drops of heaven? And what can we learn about poetry from the history of pearls? —Aired May 19, 2021

33. Three Dog Tolkien 

“Lor bless me, sir, but I do love tales of that sort. And I do believe them, too, whatever Ted may say. Dogs, sir! I would dearly love to see them.” Oh, wait, I misquoted, Sam never said that—but does it not disappoint that there are not more dogs in The Lord of the Rings?! There are Farmer Maggot’s three guard dogs—Grip, Fang, and Wolf—but otherwise the hobbits’ adventure is a great desert of dogs. No canines to be seen, unless you count Wargs. And yet, it could be argued that without dogs there would have been no Hobbit and no Lord of the Rings. In this episode, recorded in honor of her new dog Drake, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown digs deep into Tolkien’s backstory to discover where he hid the dogs and what they have to do with Sauron—and dragons. —Aired May 27, 2021

34. The Making of Fëanor

In giving birth to her first and only son Curufinwë, whom she called Fëanor, “Spirit of Fire,” Míriel was so weary that she could not even weep. She took herself to the gardens of Lórien and lay down to sleep, but her spirit left her body and so she died—or did she? If her husband Finwë did not know, neither, it seems, did the Valar, who convened a council to debate whether she should be held blameworthy for giving up Hope at the cost of her child-bearing. Why was Míriel so wearied, and what happened to her body after her spirit left it? Was her husband Finwë wrong to remarry when her body lay still in the Blessed Realm? And what did telling her story teach Tolkien about his own thinking on marriage, the relation between the sexes, childbearing, and death? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown reads the story of Fëanor’s parents through “The Laws and Customs Among the Eldar” as a reflection on the way storytelling generates theology by raising questions that even author himself cannot resolve. —Aired June 2, 2021

35. The Marring of Fëanor

Writing to Milton Waldman about the scope of his legendarium, Tolkien insisted that “legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth,’” one such truth being that every story must contain a “fall”: “All stories are ultimately about the fall.” Like Men, the Elves fell—but how? And through whom? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown breaks open the story of Fëanor’s marring to further explore Tolkien’s thinking about the importance of making and Light. What was so evil about Fëanor’s refusal to break the Silmarils, and what does his sin show us about our own failure to trust God? Aired June 9, 2021

36. The Fall of the Followers

The fall of the angels, the fall of the Elves. Next we should learn about the fall of the Men, right? You would think—and yet, as Tolkien told Milton Waldman, in his legendarium “the first fall of Man, for reasons explained, nowhere appears.” How could Tolkien claim to be writing a mythology acceptable to “a mind that believes in the Blessed Trinity” and not address the question of Man’s fall? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown reads the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth (“Conversation between Finrod and Andreth”) in quest of Tolkien’s lost story of the Fall of the Hildor, the Younger Children of Ilúvatar. What story had Andreth heard that she was too wary—or embarrassed to tell? —Aired June 16, 2021

37. The White Lady 

“Yet I envy you,” Faramir told Frodo and Sam, “that have spoken with the White Lady.” “The Lady of Lórien! Galadriel!” cried Sam. “I wish I could make a song about her.” Who was this White Lady, and why was she so hard (as Sam insisted) to describe? Famously, as he told Tolkien after reading a typescript of The Lord of the RingsFr. Robert Murray, S.J., noticed that Galadriel bore a certain resemblance to the Virgin Mary, with which comparison Tolkien “of course” agreed: “I think I know exactly what you mean…by your references to Our Lady, upon which all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded” (Letter 142). And yet, what was it about Galadriel that suggested to Fr. Murray and Tolkien a likeness to the Virgin Mother of God? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown reads the images associated with Galadriel for hints as to her lineage in Tolkien’s Catholic imagination. Pro tip: Have your Bible to hand, but make sure it includes Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom. —Aired June 23, 2021

38. The Spellsongs of Tinúviel

The Tale of Beren and Lúthien as sung in the Lay of Leithian sits at the heart of Tolkien’s legendarium. Aragorn was singing it on the day he met Arwen, in whom he saw the image of her foremother Lúthien; Frodo swore by it as he stood at the Ford of Rivendell facing the Black Riders. And yet, what is it about? Its title—“Release from Bondage”—is almost worse than having no clue. One reader for Tolkien’s publisher Allen & Unwin imagined it was an authentic Celtic geste, confessing himself “at a loss” what to do with it; C.S. Lewis read it one evening with great pleasure and declared it myth of the truest sort—tending to allegory even as the author intended nothing other than to tell the tale. In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown follows Beren and Lúthien on their quest to wrest a Silmaril from the Iron Crown of Morgoth in search of the meaning of that “release”—and (arguably) finds it in the songs with which Tolkien himself wove the tale. —Aired June 30, 2021

39. Morgoth’s Revenge

A brother and sister conceive a child together but only realize their incest when the dragon whom the brother kills releases the sister from the spell she has been under, at which she throws herself over a cliff and the brother falls on his sword—is this Tolkien or Game of Thrones?! In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown wrestles with the story of Turin Turambar and his sister Nienor and its complicated place in Tolkien’s larger history. Why were Turin and Nienor subjected to such trials? And what do we learn from Morgoth’s curse? —Aired July 7, 2021

40. Gondolin 

Gondolin—the very word conjures heart-wracking glimpses of the vanished past. Elrond’s father Eärendil was born there, the swords that Bilbo and Gandalf took from the troll-hoard were forged there, Gimli sang of its mighty king, Galadriel remembered it from before it fell. But what was Gondolin? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown follows Tuor, son of Huor—or was it son of Peleg?—through the mountain gates—were there seven or only one?—to the hidden city of Turgon with its walls of white and fountains of song. On the journey, we discover the deep roots of Tolkien’s whole legendarium—the untold story upon which all other stories depend. —Aired July 14, 2021

41. The Soup of Stories 

Would you be delighted or horrified to learn that your favorite passage or character or scene in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings could be traced to a modern novel you had never heard of? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown reviews Holly Ordway’s Tolkien’s Modern Reading: Middle-earth Beyond the Middle Ages (Word on Fire, 2021) to test the flavor of Tolkien’s story-soup. We read from fairy tales (The Yellow Fairy Book), historical romance (John Inglesant), science fiction (Out of the Silent Planet), and adventure stories (She) to test our ability to study Tolkien’s story-tower without knocking it down. Spoiler alert! Your favorite characters may not be who you thought! —Aired July 21, 2021

42. Refracted Light 

“I’m always looking for something I can’t find… Something like what I wrote myself. There’s nothing like being vain, is there?” In his letters to publishers and publicists, Tolkien alternately apologized for having to write his own stories because (in Lewis’s words) there was “too little of what we really like in stories” and expressed the hope that others would be inspired to write stories within the “majestic whole” he sketched in his legendarium. Why was it so hard for Lewis and Tolkien to find stories that they liked when, as we saw in our previous episode, Tolkien drew constantly on other people’s stories in crafting his own? Was Tolkien, after all, simply writing fan fiction? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown explores further the question of Tolkien’s creativity by reading from her own fan fiction written on the model of Alexander Pope and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. If  “a little learning is a dangerous thing,” what happens when a band of modern poets sets out to write a heroic satire using contemporary figures as its main characters? You guessed it: mayhem ensues! —Aired July 28, 2021

43. The Riddle of the Ring

“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.” Everyone knows that Sauron made the One Ring, but nobody—including Tolkien—seems to know how it worked, perhaps because nobody—including Tolkien—explained how Sauron made it. Where did Tolkien get the idea of magic rings? What would it mean to make a magic ring? And what might explain its effects? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown gives a brief history of English magic in quest of the making of Sauron’s One Ring and explores the spiritual dangers in attempting to make such rings for Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits—and Men. —Aired November 6, 2021.


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To watch the videos you will need to set up an account with subscription, but your subscription will give you access to all the channels on the site. NB: When you subscribe, you will be sent an access code by email to login to the channel at http://uatv.infogalactic.comYou will need the access code to access the videos, not just the password you create when you subscribe.

*2005, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2017, and 2020 to date.
**You may remember Based Professor Chance from Milo’s account of my adventures with certain other medievalists—they have some nasty things to say about Tolkien, too. Jane, on the other hand, was willing to read what I—and Milo—had actually said. No wonder she writes so well about Tolkien!
***I talked more about this assignment in a roundtable at Kalamazoo in 2012 on “Teaching Tolkien.”


  1. Dr. Brown clearly loves the subject, and I was enamored by her passion. At times she was deeply moved in the first episode, which I found infectious. I love the depths of Tolkien's work, and Dr. Brown clearly appreciates it fully. I'm looking forward to the rest of the episodes, especially since I have some history writing about Tom Bombadil.
    I loved hearing about Tokien's relationship to Story, and how reflective it is about our lives.

  2. I have never read Tolkien before. Participating in her Telegram chat and having listened to her first video, I am absolutely on my toes, for I can hardly wait to take the journey through middle earth myself!

    Besides Tolkien, the Professor is a joy to behold. She embodies the Fairie, the Muse and the Guide as she unfolds stories and strings together ideas masterfully!

    I was truly, more than impressed!

  3. I watched the first episode of "The Forge of Tolkien," and it was fantastic! The professor made the point that LOTR came to us with its own fully formed mythology and history. It was Sam who realized that they had all landed in one of the great stories of Middle-Earth, continuing the story Aragorn had told them at Weathertop. She cites Pratchett's view of characters not really driving the larger story, and wonders whether we are rejoicing in the story in which we've landed, or (like Pratchett's characters) are we seeking to break out of this story? Another important point in all stories is a fear of dying without significance. Professor Fulton Brown shows us that the joy in traditional fairy stories is that point of sudden grace, which presents itself when all seems lost. The joy comes when characters realize they've been lifted our of the story and given a glimpse of something else, something beyond. I especially loved her citation of the passage in which Sam and Frodo first perceived the stones around them as menacing, but after Sam and Frodo discussed their place in the stories, and Frodo laughed, the stones seemed to sing. Lovely scene here. Really looking forward to the next episode!

  4. Review: Episode 4 (Who is Tom Bombadil?)
    This episode effectively conveys the thematic resonance that Tom Bombadil adds to the Lord of the Rings story, and its Christian inspiration. If you are Christian, it will enhance your experience of reading the story to consider these themes. It's important, of course, not to take the Jesus parallels too far; doing so would create narrative issues. I will return to this later. Just hearing Tolkien's words simply read aloud creates nostalgia for me. It's no surprise that it was a discussion even among the movie cast whether Bombadil should be included; Elijah Wood wanted him in, if I remember correctly from the DVD commentary.

    She properly raises the re-occurrence of the sleeping/waking dynamic, and its significance. There is one thing that she glosses over, mentioning that it's "interesting" that Sam "sleeps like a log." This is foreshadowing. Everyone is immersed in the water imagery, enchanted by their (thankfully benevolent) surroundings. Even the word choice of a "ring" in Frodo's voice is aptly selected. Since they are only just beginning their adventure, and already deeply swayed by the magic at hand, it is significant that Sam is the only one who has a peaceful rest. He is not "drowning" in the water, but floating peacefully like a log on top. This foreshadows his future role in the narrative, and why he is uniquely suited to it.
    An aside that Professor Brown makes is that people may feel that Jackson removed too much of the magic from LOTR. I will say that this was explicitly not my experience with "Fellowhip," but one that I had with each following movie. This is, however, in keeping with the narrative. I only take issue when removing magic from the abbreviated movies creates continuity errors, such as the destruction of Gandalf's staff, and Sarumon's death.

    For my purposes: I would like to make a distinction between a "thematic device" and a "plot device." The former assists the overall tonal presentation of events, the latter facilitates a movement between events. The Eagles, for example, are both a thematic and a plot device; they are necessary to the plot. If there was one thing that I wanted the movies to expound upon, it was them. They are also relevant for more than one event.

    I value Tom Bombadil's relevance as a thematic device, but I was not convinced that he is necessary for the events of the plot, beyond the other characters that only exist by association with him. His presence helps to contextualize the grander narrative, to initiate the unprepared Hobbits in a spiritual way for their journey, and gives us insight into the minds of our main four.

    On the Jesus comparison. If Tom Bombadil were a strict allegory of Jesus (which Professor Brown does not assert), Tom's lack of presence in the plot would serve to slight his inspiration. What is important is the way his being contextualizes the threat of the one ring. It has no power over Tom, who is wholeheartedly content. That is the function of having a wholly good person this early in the narrative. How one may achieve that wholeness, I think, will be a natural assumption among the Christian readership, and will resonate with the rest of the symbolism that Professor Brown discusses.

    I very much enjoyed this episode.

  5. Review: Forge of Tolkien, Episode 5, "Stories for Children."

    Tokien wrote for adults. In this episode, Professor Brown tackles the critical reception of the LOTR in its day, which commonly degraded the series as "for children." What we come to discover, essentially, is that Tolkien didn't share the preoccupation that these critics possessed, either with the topics of sex, or disillusionment with religion. This is presumably why they didn't like his work.

    Why is the reason these adult critics spurn Tolkien a primarily adolescent preoccupation? There also appears to be a fundamentally different perspective on the purpose of the fantasy genre. To put it simply, one group wants to please children, and one group wants to raise children. What I'm getting from this lesson (and what seems implied by the tangent about Disney and Pinnochio) is that Tolkien believed that fantasy was inherently dangerous for children. In their prepubescent years, children are most capable of learning, and are actively trying to understand what the world is.

    A mature adult (assuming developed mental faculties and moral sensibilities) can actively engage in a fantasy story without risk to his own health. In handing off the moral development of children to fantasy stories, their understanding of life is affected by the contrivances and artifices of the construction. Again, there are those that want to please children, and those that want to raise children.

    These were the thoughts that I gained from watching the episode. If I should criticize, I think that the specific example of Pinocchio was not well explained, and it ends with an open supposition that there is something unhealthy about its themes. I won't dispute that Disney has had an unhealthy affect on my generation (which I believe I have witnessed) but I also know of no interpretation of Pinocchio that gives support or credence to the villains.

    To aid the point from my perspective, however, I'll try to give a more modern comparison. This difference in the approach to fantasy exists between two TV shows, "Avatar: the Last Airbender," and its sequel, "The Legend of Korra." The former, headed by Aaron Ehasz, is a generally mature show with positive moral structures. The latter (written without Ehasz), is a distinctly less mature show because of its preoccupations with sexual and disillusionment themes. This goes to show the difference that a single writer can have.

  6. Dear Professor Brown,

    I just stumbled on to your unauthorized channel. It is magnificent! Thank you for your fascinating and suggestive approaches to LOTR, a book about which one cannot say too much. I was a little disappointed by your hints about Disney, not because they went too far, but because they remained at the level of innuendo, and I wish you would have said what you meant concretely. I am not sure what to make of your hint about Pinocchio - from what I recall, Collodi's original moral fable includes the Isola dei Piaceri episode, which the story is pretty clear about presenting as a warning. Without wishing to dispute that Tolkien hated Disney, or that its modern iteration is very troubling indeed, I am not seeing the seductive impulse you appeared to locate even in its films from the mid-20th century. Can you elaborate more on that point?

    1. I was alluding to Professor Jordan B. Peterson's reading of “Pinocchio.”

  7. I was really interested in this series and would love to see the episodes. However, I encountered the problem with login after I purchased the membership and still cannot access the episodes. I have contacted Unothorized TV but no answer came. Did anyone have a similar problem?

    1. You should get an email with an access code after you subscribe. Check your spam folder. If you don't find an email there, contact Vox Day at

    2. Yes, had the same problem, Dunia. Created an account basically only to access the interview with E Michael Jones about "Logos Rising." (Never cared for Tolkein to be honest, and don't get the appeal). Anyway, new website at keeps telling me my password is invalid, though my card was charged when I signed up and I can log in to the old site (and I never received an email with access code, nor does the new login page ask for access code - just email and password). Firefox also keeps warning me that has an invalid security certificate and my info may be compromised by going to it - great. Unfortunately, it seems like uatv is a complete mess all around. I emailed the address on the old web page and have not heard back, but will try to one above for Vox Day.

    3. The platform is safe, Google is just playing silly buggers. We are not on YouTube for precisely this reason: conservative content is precious, and we are working to build our own platforms! Please pardon our dust! And check your spam folder.

  8. Watching the episode "A deeper delve" and professor Brown states her birth year as 1965. When I googled her, Wikipedia says she was born in 1950. I don't know if you want to try fixing that...Wikipedia is awful anyways, but I don't know if you want people going around thinking you're 70. (I got the info from Google first, so I was thinking "oh wow, she has such amazing skin for 70, I would have guessed she was in her 50's for sure" so maybe you might want to keep it that way and people will just think you're a glowing and spritely 70 year old. Anyways, loving the series!

    1. Wikipedia doesn't give my age. People can think what they like about how old I am—I compete in the 50-59 Veteran Women's Foil age bracket!

      I am happy you are enjoying the series!

  9. Review: Chapter 6, The Taxonomy of Dragons
    (disclaimer: listening on fast forward, may miss some details)
    The episode is a useful reminder of the history of dragons in literature. It's easy to forget that Bane and Fafnir are essentially the only old dragons. It's interesting to think of what dragons are supposed to mean, as purely fantasy creatures, and what gives them a sense of grandeur. I think modern uses of dragons lack majesty and intrigue. Game of Thrones' dragons are tools, contrivances to give certain characters power that they otherwise wouldn't have, and also tools of television to push the development of animation. Dragons in Harry Potter are dumb beasts and inconsequential. Dragons in Eragon are characters and devices for the magic system, but in my opinion lack majesty. The debut of Godzilla (insomuch as it can be called a dragon) was explicitly about the fear of rampant scientific development manifesting the evil of humanity (It's all downhill from there).

    Perhaps my opinion of those uses of dragons has more to do with the lack of religious reflection of the writers. This is going back to how Tolkien's writing was influenced by his Christianity, which I would like to consider more thoroughly. A nice little episode. Who doesn't want to learn more about the history of dragons?

  10. Like watching the videos. Do you have course work for us self-read Tolkien fans outside the university system, or an online course? Watching vids a bit passive.

    1. You can follow my campus reading list! Here is the blog for that course:


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