Tea with Tolkien

By Kaitlyn Facista

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Join us for a cup of tea as we grow together in Hobbitness and Holiness, inspired by the faith and philosophy of JRR Tolkien.

Episode Date
Episode 16: To Morning Through the Shadows (On Good Friday, Miscarriage, and The Light We Cannot See)

In western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring,
the trees may bud, the waters run,
the merry finches sing.

Or there maybe 'tis cloudless night
and swaying beeches bear
the Elven-stars as jewels white
amid their branching hair.

Though here at journey's end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,

above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.

- The Return of the King, The Tower of Cirith Ungol

The Sun is will rise again, even though we cannot see it.

Hey, everyone. I’ve missed you all! I hope you’re doing well.

I wanted to begin this episode with a little personal note and also just let you know that this will probably be a sadder episode, we’ll be talking about loss, and so if you aren’t up to that and might like to skip this episode, I understand.

About two weeks ago, I learned that I was pregnant, but unfortunately the baby was lost to miscarriage. And so I’ll be taking a break from most of things over here at Tea with Tolkien for a bit. I had been planning to take a season break over the summer while we move and then come back in September, so I’ll just be starting that break a bit sooner than planned. I might hop on one or two more times before we move in the end of May, but I just wanted to say, I don’t think I’ll be here every Tuesday for a while.

I’ve really appreciated all of the kind notes and prayers from so many of you over the past few weeks. I’ve tried to respond to all of the messages but I don’t think I’ve been able to get to each one, but I hope you know how much they mean to me. So thank you.

I haven’t really known what to say about my miscarriage because I don’t have anything inspirational or happy to say, and grief is just so incredibly awkward.  But anyway. I had planned to talk about this poem as well as the Eucatastrophe of Easter this week and the next, and to be honest I was so looking forward to talking about these things and I felt that they were applicable to the time of year we’re in right now, so here we are.

This quote from The Fellowship popped into my head:

“I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.” - The Fellowship of the Ring, The Shadow of the Past

This sort of sentiment shows up many times throughout their quest, this sort of holding on to the light, knowing it’s still there even when you can’t see it. Frodo and Sam are carried through their darkness, knowing that somewhere there is light. And many of these quotes, cheesy as it may sound, are carrying me through. I know there is light and beauty, I know that darkness is passing.

I know that my children are so loved, my friends are so loved, I know that in my loss there are others experiencing such great joy. And while that sometimes leaves me feeling a wave of bitterness, lately it’s been filling me with so much peace and happiness it feels like my heart is bursting. Maybe that’s Grace. To know that love still exists and that life carries on, new life is beginning everywhere I turn, this brings me a little bit of strength.

“They had come to the desolation that lay before Mordor… For a while they stood there, like men on the edge of a sleep where nightmare lurks, holding it off, though they know that they can only come to morning through the shadows.” - The Two Towers, The Passage of the Marshes

Tonight we enter into the darkness of Good Friday as we remember Christ crucified, Christ dead in the grave. We weep with his Mother and all of his friends and we weep for ourselves: He is gone and we miss him. I tried to visit him in Adoration and the chapel was locked. I tried to find him in the Tabernacle but it was empty. I tried to look to his likeness in the crucifix but it was covered. He has been taken from us. He has been taken from me -- by my very own sins, he was taken from me.

I received some more sad news concerning my miscarriage today and my heart ached to fall before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, but He is gone.

And while we know soon, so soon, He’ll be back, we still might find ourselves in darkness buried deep. And it hurts, it hurts so much

I just wanted to tell you it’s okay to sit in the darkness. It’s okay to feel this pain. It’s good to rest in this grief.

Easter is coming, but it isn’t here yet. There is light beyond the darkness and even though we cannot see it now, I hope you know it’s there. I know it’s there.

“‘Mordor!’ he muttered under his breath. ‘If I must go there, I wish I could come there quickly and make an end!’ He shuddered.” - The Taming of Smeagol

We as a society are so uncomfortable with grief or sadness, so eager to rush in and fix it. But there is so much beauty in it, there so many ways for us to draw closer to Christ and our Blessed Mother. We distract ourselves or we skip it entirely and just go straight to Easter morning. But we can’t come to Easter without the Crucifixion.

This quote is from The Two Towers movie so I know it’s not exactly canon but I wanted to read it anyway:

“I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”

So what do we do if Easter morning comes and we are still broken?

I don’t know, I don’t know.  But if we can only hold onto our plain hobbit-sense, if we can hold onto our hope even as it dying, the sun will rise again. I guess that’s just what I wanted to say.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.”

The one who sat on the throne[f] said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:4-5


Is everything sad going to come untrue?

Behold, I make all things new.

Apr 19, 2019
Episode 15: All that is Gold Does Not Glitter, Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost
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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.

-J.R.R Tolkien

Tea with Tolkien is a community inspired by the works and Catholic faith of JRR Tolkien, and I’m so glad you’ve found us. Whether you’ve been here from the very beginning or this is your first time joining us for tea, I hope that you’ll make yourself at home.

This poem contains what is perhaps Tolkien’s most misquoted phrase: Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost.You' find lines from it all over t-shirts and inspirational coffee mugs but the ‘those’ from the second line is typically lost. I’m not sure if this is in an attempt to wiggle around the copyright or simply out of ignorance, but either way, it’s a bit frustrating and something that drives Tolkien fans mad.

When I was in high school and had first read The Lord of the Rings, I was a bit obsessed with this poem. In art class, we had a calligraphy assignment in which we were supposed to write out a particular quote and of course I chose this poem. I also mentioned it to my creative writing teacher and she was the first one to mention the way that this poem not only points to Aragorn, but also to Christ. So Ms. De Arcos, if you’re listening, hi! Thank you!


Let’s begin with a bit of background on the poem itself.

We first hear this poem in Chapter Ten of Book One as Frodo’s reading it in the postscript of a letter from Gandalf. The letter was supposed to have been delivered to Frodo much earlier but was delayed due to the forgetfullness of Mr. Butterbur. The post-post-script reads, “Make sure that it is the real Strider. There are many strange men on the roads. His true name is Aragorn.” And then he includes this poem, apparently meant to be helpful for Frodo in determining who the real Strider is.

“I am Aragorn son of Arathorn; and if by life or death I can save you, I will.”

Aragorn then quotes a part of the poem, “All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost”.

‘Did the verses apply to you then?’ asked Frodo. ‘I could not make out what they were about. But how did you know that they were in Gandalf’s letter, if you have never seen it?’

‘I did not know,’ he answered. ‘But I am Aragorn, and those verses go with that name.’ He drew out his sword, and they saw that the blade was indeed broken a foot below the hilt.”

So once the gang finally makes it to The Council of Elrond, we hear this poem once again.

Boromir has come to Elrond because of a dream, which he describes as such:

“For on the eve of the sudden assault a dream came to my brother in a troubled sleep; and afterwards a like dream came of to him again, and once to me,

‘In that dream I thought the eastern sky grew dark and there was a growing thunder, but in the West a pale light lingered, and out of it I heard a voice, remote but clear, crying:’

Seek for the Sword that was broken:
In Imladris it dwells;
There shall be counsels taken
Stronger than Morgul-spells.
There shall be shown a token
That Doom is near at hand,
For Isildur's Bane shall waken,
And the Halfling forth shall stand.”

So after this, Aragorn stands up and shows Boromir his sword, the Sword that was broken, and then Elrond reveals that Aragorn is a descendant of Isildur and is the Chief of the Dunedain…

Bilbo jumps up and bursts out with the poem again after Boromir is being kinda rude to Aragorn tbh.

We also have a few earlier versions of this poem as Tolkien was drafting it. These are recorded within The History of Middle-Earth, in The Treason of Isengard. As far as I’ve been able to learn, this is the original version of the poem:

All that is gold does not glitter
all that is long does not last;
All that is old does not wither;
not all that is over is past.

And then later the last verse was added:

Not all that have fallen are vanquished;
a king may yet be without crown,
A blade that was broken be brandished;
and towers that were strong may fall down.

Tolkien made changes along the way and eventually, apparently, was pleased with the final version we read in The Fellowship of the Ring, and I quite like it myself.

If you want to learn more about the story of Aragorn, you can read a lot about it in Appendix A as well. We had also had high hopes for Amazon’s Middle-Earth series to follow the life of “Young Aragorn”, but it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting that after all and it’s probably for the best.

This poem’s primary purpose is of course to give its reader a deeper understanding of Aragorn’s character. He begins this tale as a wandering Ranger, met with scorn and suspicion by many, weatherworn and humble; and yet he will end it as King.

Stepping out of Middle-Earth and into what Tolkien referred to as the Greatest Fairy-Story, the Gospel, I think we can see many similarities between Aragorn’s character within this poem and Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

“Not all those who wander are lost” calls to mind an image of Christ wandering in the desert for forty days; “the crownless again shall be King” is reminiscent of Christ’s willingness to live a life of obscurity and sacrifice, the very King of Kings receiving nothing but a crown of thorns as he was mocked and beaten.

I love so much that there isn’t one specific Christ figure in The Lord of the Rings, because it isn’t meant to be read as allegory, yet instead there are several Christ-like characters -- characters that through their own lives of sacrifice and love help us to understand Christ in perhaps a new or different light than we had.

In “The Philosophy of Tolkien”, Peter Kreeft writes,

"There is no one complete, concrete, visible Christ figure in The Lord of the Rings... He is more clearly present in Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn, the three Christ figures... They exemplify the Old Testament threefold Messianic symbolism of prophet (Gandalf), priest (Frodo), and king (Aragorn)."

In Philp Ryken’s “The Messiah Comes to Middle-Earth”, Ryken expands on this idea, writing:

“If Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn remind us in various ways of Jesus Christ, it is not because the novelist had this explicitly in mind. It is rather because a biblical worldview so thoroughly penetrated his imagination that inevitably it pervaded his literary art."

If you’re interested in reading more about the parallels and applicabilities between these characters and Christ, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of these books!

Apr 02, 2019
Episode 14: I Feel like Spring After Winter

Spring After Winter Mug available for a limited time here.

Pull up a cozy chair and join us as we chat about the works and Catholic faith of J.R.R. Tolkien! I hope this podcast encourages you to carry a little piece of Middle-Earth into your own life as we grow together in hobbitness and holiness. Thanks so much for listening!

‘How do I feel?’ he cried. ‘Well, I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel’ — he waved his arms in the air — ‘I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!’

If you listened to our Tolkien Reading Day episode yesterday, this is one of my favorite Tolkien quotes that I had mentioned. And today I wanted to talk a bit more about it and Spring in general, particularly because last week marked the beginning of Spring for us and because March 25th is of course the day on which the Ring was destroyed as well as the Feast of the Annunciation.

Spring represents or calls to mind images of hope, new life, a fresh start, the light after dark, warmth after the cold, cleansing rains, a gentleness after the harshness of winter. It is soft, and joyful, a season to be celebrated. Tolkien was a lover of myth and symbol and the natural rhythms of the seasons, and the way The Lord of the Rings flows is a testament to that.

Tolkien writes in Letter 210, “Seasons are carefully regarded… They are pictoral, and should be, and easily could be, made the main means by which the artists indicate time-passage. The main action begins in autumn and passes through winter to a brilliant spring: this is basic to the purport and tone of the tale.”

Tolkien, being a devoted Catholic, lived in line with the Church’s liturgical calendar. To Catholics, Spring is closely associated with Easter: the Resurrection, which Tolkien called the Greatest Eucatastrophe.

In Letter 89 he wrote, “The Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story — and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love. Of course I do not mean that the Gospels tell what is only a fairy-story; but I do mean very strongly that they do tell a fairy-story: the greatest. Man the storyteller would have to be redeemed in a manner consonant with his nature: by a moving story. But since the author of it is the supreme Artist and the Author of Reality, this one was also made to Be, to be true on the Primary Plane….”

After death, comes life; after winter, comes spring. And we see this all over the place in his writings as they are so rooted in both physical actual time, as he had mentioned before, and in the symbolism of the seasons. Both Bilbo and Frodo leave Bag end right at the beginning of Autumn, and the Ring is destroyed right at the beginning of Spring.

Mar 26, 2019
Tolkien Reading Day (Bonus Episode: My Favorite Tolkien Passages)

Pull up a cozy chair and join us as we chat about the works and Catholic faith of J.R.R. Tolkien, and strive to carry a little piece of Middle-Earth into our own daily lives.

Tolkien Reading Day is celebrated on the 25th of March every year, in honor of the day on which the One Ring was destroyed. Since 2003, the Tolkien Society has celebrated this day by encouraging fans to read and share their favorite Tolkien passages, so I wanted to share five of mine. Share yours on social media using the #TolkienReadingDay hashtag, and tag me so I can see, too!

I chose all of these from The Lord of the Rings, perhaps because it's most familiar to me of all Tolkien’s works, but also because it has had the biggest influence on my life and has meant the most to me. The more I read the Silmarillion, the more I fall in love with its depth, but I’m still not as familiar with it to be able to choose my favorite specific passages or chapters. So all of these are from The Lord of the Rings, and I didn’t realize this until now, but all of them are from The Return of the King at that.

This first one is from Book Six, Chapter One. After he believed Frodo to be dead, Sam took the Ring and determined to finish Frodo’s quest for him. However, he learned that Frodo was not actually dead, and he had been taken by orcs and carried away. So Sam is following them now in an attempt to rescue him, but already he is being tempted by the Ring.

“In that hour of trial it was the love of his master that helped most to hold him firm; but also deep down in him lived still unconquered his plain hobbit-sense: he knew in the core of his heart that he was not large enough to bear such a burden, even if such visions were not a mere cheat to betray him. The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.” - The Return of the King, The Tower of Cirith Ungol

Sam is strengthened by his realized, and continues on. After climbing to the top of the stairs in the Tower of Cirith Ungol and being unable to find Frodo, Sam sinks down and bows his head. However, he then begins to sing:

In western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring,
the trees may bud, the waters run,
the merry finches sing.
Or there maybe 'tis cloudless night
and swaying beeches bear
the Elven-stars as jewels white
amid their branching hair.
Though here at journey's end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.

Sam’s song draws the attention of an orc, thinking he’s hearing Frodo. The orc uses a ladder to access the final chamber above, and with that Sam is able to follow the orc up and rescue Frodo.

In the next chapter, The Land of Shadow, Frodo and Sam scramble through Mordor, trying desperately to finish their quest. At one point, they find a place to hide and Sam tells Frodo to sleep while he keeps watch.

“Then at last, to keep himself awake, he crawled from the hiding-place and looked out. The land seemed full of creaking and cracking and sly noises, but there was no sound of voice or foot. Far above the Ephel Duath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

After the Ring is ultimately destroyed, Frodo and Sam awake to find themselves in the Field of Cormallen. Aragorn is king; Gandalf is returned.; the Ring is gone. All is right with the world once again.

“‘Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?’ he said.

But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: ‘Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happening to the world?"

‘A great Shadow has departed,’ said Gandalf, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then, as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed.

‘How do I feel?’ he cried. ‘Well, I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel’ — he waved his arms in the air — ‘I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!’

Later on, as the hobbits are brought out before the host of men and met with great praise, Tolkien writes:

“And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all the men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.”

So these are five of my favorite passages from The Lord of the Rings, quotes that have pierced my own heart and hopefully they will resonate with you a little bit, or at least inspire you to read a little or a lot of Tolkien. I’d love to hear about your favorites in the comments below, or you can send me a note on twitter or facebook or instagram!

Also, on a quick final note, today is the opening of our spring pop-up shop! I have a limited selection of some of our most popular items from when our Etsy shop was open and I’m very excited to be able to offer some of them again. It was such a challenge to run our busy Etsy shop while also staying at home with my little hobbits, and so I made the difficult decision to close last December. However, this pop-up shop will be open from today until April 5th! We have a beautiful new design made for Tea with Tolkien by Ash of Daffodils and Ink, as well as our Rose Bookstack tee, our enamel Hobbit at Heart campfire mug, and our Little Hobbit baby onesie.

I also wanted to mention, if you’re on instagram, I’m hosting a giveaway in celebration of Tolkien Reading day this week. The giveaway will close on March 30th and 10pm EST, and I hope it’s you that wins! You can visit my instagram feed, @teawithtolkien, for all of the details and how to enter.

I will be back tomorrow to talk about one of my favorite quotes that I had mentioned in this episode, Sam’s “I feel like spring after winter and sun on the leaves”, as well as a little discussion of the significance of Spring in Tolkien’s writings, so make sure you’re subscribed to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode.

I hope you have a beautiful day, and make sure to read more Tolkien! And drink more tea, too!

Also, here’s the link to my piece about March 25.

Mar 26, 2019
Episode 13: "I am in Fact a Hobbit (In all But Size)" - Letter 213

Pull up a cozy chair and join us as we chat about the works and Catholic faith of J.R.R. Tolkien as well as how we can carry Middle-Earth into our own daily lives.

I’ve wanted to begin discussing some of Tolkien’s letters every so often and so today I thought we’d talk about Letter 213.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about or why these letters have numbers, it’s because they’ve been compiled and published in this really lovely and insightful book called The Letters of JRR Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter. I’ll link to it in the show description, I highly highly recommend it.

So this letter was written to Deborah Webster in October of 1958. Deborah Webster Rogers wrote her doctoral dissertation on Tolkien and Lewis at the University of Wisconsin entitled  The Fictitious Characters of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as JRR Tolkien: A Critical Biography. This letter was first published in her dissertation.

It’s a very short letter so we’ll go through it together one paragraph at a time!

So he begins with a response to what I’m assuming is her request for facts about himself, saying he is quite opposed to this sort of thing.

“I do not like giving 'facts' about myself other than 'dry' ones (which anyway are quite as relevant to my books as any other more Juicy details). Not simply for personal reasons; but also because I object to the contemporary trend in criticism, with its excessive interest in the details of the lives of authors and artists. They only distract attention from an author's works (if the works are in fact worthy of attention), and end, as one now often sees, in becoming the main interest.”

But only one's guardian Angel, or indeed God Himself, could unravel the real relationship between personal facts and an author's works. Not the author himself (though he knows more than any investigator), and certainly not so-called 'psychologists'.

But, of course, there is a scale of significance in 'facts' of this sort. There are insignificant facts (those particularly dear to analysts and writers about writers): such as drunkenness, wife-beating, and suchlike disorders. I do not happen to be guilty of these particular sins. But if I were, I should not suppose that artistic work proceeded from the weaknesses that produced them, but from other and still uncorrupted regions of my being.

Modern 'researchers' inform me that Beethoven cheated his publishers, and abominably ill-treated his nephew; but I do not believe that has anything to do with his music.

Then there are more significant facts, which have some relation to an author's works; though knowledge of them does not really explain the works, even if examined at length. For instance I dislike French, and prefer Spanish to Italian – but the relation of these facts to my taste in languages (which is obviously a large ingredient in The Lord of the Rings) would take a long time to unravel, and leave you liking (or disliking) the names and bits of language in my books, just as before.”

So here we are seeing a distinction being made by Tolkien between insignificant facts and significant ones and I think that’s quite important in light of the modern obsession over insignificant facts, as Tolkien had mentioned in the beginning of his letter.

He then lists of what he feels are the really significant facts about himself.

“And there are a few basic facts, which however drily expressed, are really significant. For instance I was born in 1892 and lived for my early years in 'the Shire' in a pre-mechanical age.

Or more important, I am a Christian (which can be deduced from my stories), and in fact a Roman Catholic. The latter 'fact' perhaps cannot be deduced; though one critic (by letter) asserted that the invocations of Elbereth, and the character of Galadriel as directly described (or through the words of Gimli and Sam) were clearly related to Catholic devotion to Mary. Another saw in waybread (lembas)= viaticum and the reference to its feeding the will (vol. III, p. 213) and being more potent when fasting, a derivation from the Eucharist.

“(That is: far greater things may colour the mind in dealing with the lesser things of a fairy-story.)”

This is one of my favorite lines from this letter, so I’ll read it again:

“(That is: far greater things may colour the mind in dealing with the lesser things of a fairy-story.)”

He then goes on to write,

“I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much. I love Wales (what is left of it, when mines, and the even more ghastly sea-side reasons, have done their worst), and especially the Welsh language. But I have not in fact been in W. for a long time (except for crossing it on the way to Ireland). I go frequently to Ireland (Eire: Southern Ireland) being fond of it and of (most of) its people; but the Irish language I find wholly unattractive. I hope that is enough to go on with.

This letter is a great place to start within Tolkien’s letters or if you’re just beginning to learn a bit more about him because he’s just listing off the facts and influences he feels are important or significant to know when reading his works.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this letter! Tweet me, email etc.

If you’d like to become a patron you can learn more about all the benefits and such that come with supporting Tea with Tolkien in this way at patreon.com/teawithtolkien.

And mark your calendars for Tolkien Reading Day on March 25th, I’ll have a special bonus episode to celebrate and if you don’t know what Tolkien Reading Day is, it’s a tradition begun by The Tolkien Society and if encourages fans to take time every March 25th to read and share their favorite Tolkien passages and just celebrate his life and works so I’ll be sharing my five favorites and I’d love to hear what yours are as well!

I’ll also be hosting a giveaway on Instagram so be sure to follow me over there if you’d like to enter, it will be up on March 25th as well, and I’m also working on another surprise for you all so all in all it will be a very exciting week in the Tea with Tolkien community.

I hope you have a beautiful week and I’ll talk to you soon!

Mar 19, 2019
Episode 12: A Hobbit's Guide to Lent

This week, I’m joined once again by my husband Alex for tea and a little chat about Lent. I wanted to share some ways I’ve been inspired and encouraged by the journeys of Frodo and Sam and how I’m planning to carry some of these ideas along with me through Lent. I hope you’ll find one or two of these ideas useful!

A Hobbit’s Guide to Lent

  • stop wearing shoes (ok fine you can wear sandals)

  • get rid of stuff

  • sleep less comfortably

  • walk instead of drive, when you can

  • eat more Lembas

  • enjoy meals slowly and with good company

  • drink water only

  • carry your friends when they need you

  • let go of Your Precious

Recommended Reading:

Mar 05, 2019
Episode 11: The Tragedy of Sméagol

Today I wanted to spend some time with a character I have a very dear place in my heart for and that character is Sméagol, also known as Gollum.

At first glance he’s just this gangly, wicked, nasty little monster that you may find easy to hate. Maybe you even find yourself, like Frodo, wishing Bilbo had simply killed him when he had the chance and that was the end of it.

And yet when we spend just a little bit of time looking for the humanity within Gollum, we find Sméagol, and we are reminded that he himself is a creature worthy of love and yet desperately broken and lost.

I wanted to start out with a little bit of background information on Sméagol before the Ring.

Sméagol spent his early childhood living with his Grandmother. When he was 33 years old, he was fishing with his cousin Déagol who found a gold ring in the water.

I want to pause just for a second here to mention the importance of that age, 33. It isn’t in the books and I haven’t been able to find an actual source for this but I’ve read it in several places and I wouldn’t put it past Tolkien to choose this age intentionally. So you can take it or leave it, but I thought I’d mention it.

His birth year is listed as Third Age 2430 and then the year he got the Ring is approx. 2463 which would put him at 33. He also referred to the Ring as ‘his birthday present’, although it’s unsure if it it was actually his birthday because Sméagol is such an unreliable narrator.

This age is important for a few reasons. First, 33 is the year when a hobbit is considered officially an adult, they’ve come of age. So Sméagol chose to take the Ring as an adult, not as a child.

Second, Frodo was also 33 when he was given the Ring, on his birthday.

So we were talking about this on twitter and @danielhlogan referred to him in this sense as “Frodo’s Shadow”. Sméagol is, in a kind of way, an inverse of Frodo in the way that he came about possessing the Ring and what followed after. Sméagol takes it by force, where Frodo was given the Ring as a gift.

(Also, drawing from Tolkien’s Catholic influence, 33 is the age of Christ when he was crucified. Just wanted to point that out.)

So almost immediately, Sméagol finds himself obsessed with the Ring and ultimately chokes his cousin to death and takes the Ring for himself. After that, he quickly devolved as the Ring corrupted him, he’s kicked out of his grandmother’s home and finds a home for himself in a cave in the Misty Mountains where he lived for more than 400 years.

“they Banished Us” by Foxinshadow via DeviantArt

“they Banished Us” by Foxinshadow via DeviantArt

Eventually, Bilbo comes across the Ring and ultimately takes it with him home to the Shire, which leads Gollum to leave the mountains and search in vain for Bilbo. He ends up being captured and tortured in the dungeons of Barad-dur, where he reveals to Sauron what he knew about the Ring. After that, he was freed but then captured by Aragorn and brought to Mirkwood. He then escapes with the help of Orcs and continues searching for the Ring, eventually finding the Fellowship in Moria and following them until he is caught by Frodo and Sam and they take him as their guide.

There’s this quote towards the end of his tale -- Book 4, Chapter 8, The Stairs of Cirith Ungol -- in which we are shown the last flicker of light within his heart and it just kills me, just absolutely kills me.

After hours of sneaking around and plotting, Gollum finds Frodo and Sam asleep. Tolkien writes, “Peace was in both their faces.”

“Gollum looked at them. A strange expression passed over his lean hungry face. The gleam faded from his eyes, and they went dim and grey, old and tired. A spasm of pain seemed to twist him, and he turned away, peering back up towards the pass, shaking his head, as if engaged in some interior debate. Then he came back, and slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee -- but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing.”

But at this, Sam immediately wakes up and sort of yells at Gollum, accusing him of sneaking and calling him an old villain. In Letter 96, Tolkien calls this “the tragedy of Gollum who at that moment came within a hair of repentance - but for one rough word from Sam.”

“Gollum withdrew himself, and a green glint flickered under his heavy lids.”

Tolkien uses the back and forth of the green gleam or glint in Gollum’s eyes from the grey in his eyes to show us the internal struggle going on within Gollum, this turmoil between Sméagol the Hobbit and Gollum the lonely creature he has become, and after this exchange Tolkien writes “the green glint did not leave his eyes.”

“Smeagol’s Remorse” by NickOnPlanetripple via deviantart

“Smeagol’s Remorse” by NickOnPlanetripple via deviantart

After this moment, I would argue, Sméagol’s fate is sealed. We can’t really know what might have happened if Sam might have reacted differently, and even if Gollum would have had a complete change of heart in this moment there’s nothing to guarantee he wouldn’t have given into the overwhelming desire for the Ring once again. But it still makes me wonder.

Can we blame Sam? I don’t think so. Sam is right not to trust him, after all. And given what he’s gone through and the desperate situation he’s found himself in, I don’t think many of us could say that we would have been any kinder.

But despite his cruel words and his general disdain for Gollum, Sam ultimately chooses the same path as Bilbo when given the chance to kill him.

In Book 6, Chapter 3, Frodo and Sam are scrambling up the Slopes of Doom when Gollum finally finds them once again.

Tolkien writes:

“'Don't kill us,' he wept. 'Don't hurt us with nassty cruel steel! Let us live, yes, live just a little longer. Lost lost! We're lost. And when Precious goes we'll die, yes, die into the dust.' He clawed up the ashes of the path with his long fleshless fingers. 'Dusst!' he hissed.

Sam's hand wavered. His mind was hot with wrath and the memory of evil. It would be just to slay this treacherous, murderous creature, just and many times deserved; and also it seemed the only safe thing to do. But deep in his heart there was something that restrained him: he could not strike this thing lying in the dust, forlorn, ruinous, utterly wretched. He himself, though only for a little while, had borne the Ring, and now dimly he guessed the agony of Gollum's shrivelled mind and body, enslaved to that Ring, unable to find peace or relief ever in life again. But Sam had no words to express what he felt.”

Sam allows Gollum to live, just a little bit longer… and ultimately it is Gollum who brings about the destruction of the Ring.

I find it so fitting and so beautiful that Gollum, most harmed by the Ring, is ultimately the source of its destruction and the world’s salvation from it. It’s a reminder that Providence can work through the most wretched of us to bring about something so beautiful and redemptive.  

We are reminded, in the glimpse of his humanity, that even Sméagol was created for goodness— and even though the power of the Ring has caused him to wander so far from his original path, Providence can still work through him to help heal the world.

Artist Credit:  Shockbolt via DeviantArt

Artist Credit: Shockbolt via DeviantArt

Gollum carried the Ring for nearly 500 years. And as he carried it, it carried him away from everything beautiful or kind or true he had ever known. When Sméagol took the Ring for himself he entered into his own personal hell on earth, we might say, and he was consumed by it until the last moment of his life.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while: can we hold Gollum accountable for his actions? After all, the power of the Ring is far stronger than the will of any simple Hobbit. Even Frodo himself succumbed to it at the last moment.

Tolkien actually addresses it in Letter 181, and it isn’t the happy answer we might have wished for, but I think it’s better than that, it’s a good answer.

He writes, “Gollum was pitiable, but he ended in persistent wickedness, and the fact that this worked good was no credit to him… I am afraid, whatever our beliefs, we have to face the fact that there are persons who yield to temptation, reject their changes of nobility or salvation, and appear to be ‘damnable’... But we who are all ‘in the same boat’ must not usurp the Judge. The domination of the Ring was much too strong for the mean soul of Smeagol. But he would have never had to endure it if he had not become a mean sort of thief before it crossed his path. Need it ever have crossed his path? Need anything dangerous ever cross any of our paths?”

I think, ultimately, we are faced by the truth that although Gollum did not intend to be carried so far away from the light of the world, it was his choice to take the Ring for himself and so the burden of what he became afterward is on him. And I think that should be somewhat alarming for us to recognize in our own selves too!

So what do you think about all of this?

I want to end with another quote from The Stairs of Cirith Ungol, as a reminder that we’re all a part of the same story, the same world. I think often we might be tempted to look at others, maybe those living radically different lives than us, those who believe differently than us, who we disagree with, and we see them as something less than human. And guys, that’s terrible, we can’t do that. Just cut that out immediately. Frodo and Sam and Smeagol, they’re all hobbits, all worthy of love and deserving of mercy.

The choices we make have led us all down our own paths, some deep into the tunnels of the Misty Mountains, some to the dungeons of Barad-Dur, some to the Field of Cormallen… but we’re all a part of the same tale.

“’Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on.

Don’t the great tales never end?’

‘No, they never end as tales,’ said Frodo.

‘But the people in them come, and go when

their part’s ended. Our part will end later—or sooner.’”

Feb 26, 2019
Episode 10: Tea with Flannery (feat. Theresa Williams)

This week, I was joined by my best friend Theresa Williams! We chatted about a piece she wrote for the Tea with Tolkien blog on the life, writings, and faith of Flannery O’Connor, friendship, and more! I hope you’ll enjoy!

Read Theresa’s piece on Flannery O’Connor here.

You can learn more about Theresa here.

(Also just a quick note, I’m sorry for the kinda wonky audio! I’m still learning how to be a good podcaster so I hope it wasn’t too bad & I’m sure it will be better next time! Ha!)

Feb 19, 2019
Episode 9: Lembas & The Eucharist

Thank you all so much for listening to our little podcast! I think you’re all the best and I love being able to have tea with you every week. If you’re enjoying these episodes, I’d love to hear from you! You can send me a note on twitter @teawithtolkien or simply capture a moth and whisper a message to me and I’m sure it will deliver that right along, agh okay not really.

Today we’re going to having a bit of a topical discussion on the subject of Lembas! As well as looking at the Catholic influences behind this, the lovely waybread of the Elves.

We’re first introduced to Lembas in The Fellowship of the Ring when the Fellowship is leaving Lothlorien. As they prepare to set off, Galadriel presents them with several gifts-- both for each individual and the company as a whole. One of these gifts is a bunch of Lembas.

A tiny bit of backstory here because I just learned this as I was preparing for this episode and I t5hought it was cool: Lembas was actually first made by Yavanna, one of the Queens of the Valar, the same that made the Ents, and the recipe was eventually passed down to Galadriel. It’s actually made out of a special corn grown that had grown in Aman. It was also an Elven custom, apparently, that only women should bake it so sorry boys! I should also note that it is extremely rare that Lembas is given to any non-Elves so this occasion of the Fellowship receiving large quantities of it is quite important.

Gimli mistakes it for ‘cram’ but is pleasantly surprised that it’s actually very lovely!

The elves explain basically what it is, how to care for it, and so on…

“Eat a little at a time, and only at need. For these things are given to serve you when all else fails. The cakes will keep sweet for many many days, if they are unbroken and left in their leaf-wrappings, as we have brought them. One will keep a traveler on his feet for a day of long labour, even if he be one of the tall Men of Minas Tirith.”

After this chapter, we see Lembas carries throughout the rest of the story, even as the fellowship has broken, all the way to Mordor -- just makes me wanna cry thinking about it.

One of my favorite things that you can sort of pull out of The Lord of the Rings and bring to life in our own world is Lembas. Tolkien goes to a lot of detail to describe it, so it’s really the sort of thing that we can actually bake ourselves and feel like we’re eating alongside the Fellowship. Even if we might have realized just two seconds ago that Lembas is actually a corn-based cake and I’ve been using wheat flour and almonds this whole time! But that’s okay!

Two years ago, I came up with a recipe based on my own interpretation of Lembas and I’m quite fond of it and I’ll add a link to it in the show notes if anyone else is interested.

It’s basically like a cookie but it’s not very sweet, maybe we would call it a biscuit, and in it we’ve got honey, almonds, orange, and lavender among other things. And of course, it’s very good with tea!

So how does the Eucharist fit into this?

One of the first hints of Catholicism in The Lord of the Rings that I picked up on after my conversion was Lembas.

Of all the Catholic parallels in Tolkien’s writings, Lembas bread is perhaps the strongest as it bears a striking resemblance to the Eucharist (also known as communion).

Tolkien acknowledges this similarity in Letter 213 when he writes about different instances of readers pointing out his Catholic influence, “Another saw in waybread (lembas)=viaticum and the reference to its feeding the will and being more potent when fasting, a derivation from the Eucharist…”

While not allegorical, of course, several characteristics of the Elvish way bread are reminiscent of the Eucharist, so it is worth spending a little time reflecting on its role in the story of Middle-Earth.

So when given to a person near to or in danger of death, the Eucharist is called Viaticum (meaning in Latin: ‘provision for a journey’). Similarly, Lembas is called way bread by the Elves, and is given to the members of the Fellowship as they embark on their perilous quest.

In Book III, Chapter II, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are following after the group of Orcs that had captured Merry and Pippin. Tolkien writes, “Often in their hearts they thanked the Lady of Lorien for the gift of lembas, for they could eat of it and find new strength even as they ran.”

A person cannot receive the Eucharist while in a state of mortal sin without placing themselves in grave danger. Similarly, Gollum cannot eat Lembas and is actually harmed by it. Lembas is also considered more ‘potent’ when it is a person’s sole sustenance, which can be seen as a nod to the Catholic fast before receiving Communion.

And like Lembas must be eaten daily, it is recommended to that Catholics receive the Eucharist often.

In Lembas, the hobbits find renewed strength of spirit and body, often being reminded of home or safer times. Tolkien wrote, in Letter 55, of receiving Communion as “a fleeting glimpse of an unfallen world…’

Similarly, Merry remarks to Pippin that Lembas “does put heart into you! A more wholesome sort of feeling, too...”  And the Elves themselves say that it is “more strengthening than any food made by Man.”

In The Return of the King, as Frodo and Sam are almost to the end of their journey, Tolkien writes, “The lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die… it fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.”

Catholics believe the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ — in which He is truly present. While there is no such parallel within Lembas,  its power of nourishment for both body and soul speaks to the influence of the Eucharist on Tolkien’s life.

Tolkien wrote of the Eucharist often in his letters, which were compiled and published 1981 - a book, as always, I highly recommend adding to your bookshelf.

He referred to it as ‘the one great thing to love on earth’, recommending it as ‘the only cure for sagging or fainting faith’.

If you’d like to read more of his thoughts on his faith and the Eucharist, I’d recommend letters 43, 55, 89, 213, and especially 250 — available in “The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien” edited by Humphrey Carpenter.

I wanted to share two quotes from these letters:

In this one, Letter 43, Tolkien is writing to his son Michael,

“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. . . . There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste—or foretaste—of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.

Later, in Letter 250, also to Michael, he writes:

"The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals.”

One of the coolest parts of Catholicism in my opinion is that not only can we receive the Eucharist during Mass, but we can also participate in something called Eucharistic Adoration.

This is when the consecrated host is placed in a neat sort of holder called a monstrance and it’s displayed, often in an adoration chapel or maybe even in the regular church building for special occasions, and anyone can just come and sit in the presence of our Lord.

Someone asked on Twitter the other day if you need to be catholic to visit an adoration chapel and I was so excited to hear this question honestly because you totally don’t have to be catholic at all! I know a lot of people have found a lot of peace within adoration, even if they don’t really believe in the Catholic teaching that the sacrament is truly Christ present. So if you’ve ever want to attend adoration but weren’t sure about it, you should totally find one nearby and go!

Whenever I feel like everything around me is chaos or I’m struggling with feeling low, I try to run to the Blessed Sacrament as often as I can. A few weeks ago I was in kind of a bad place mentally and so I was able to drive down to adoration every night after my husband came home for a week. That kind of peace and quiet and dedicated alone time in prayer helped pull me out of a pretty dark place and so if you are at all able to, I really really highly 10/10 recommend it.  

Catholics refer to the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Christian life, and so I’ve been trying to really anchor myself around this and cling to this truth when I’m kinda feeling like Frodo and Sam on the slopes of Mount Doom.

So to bring it all back together, I just wanted to share how once again learning something more about Tolkien had led me on another winding path into the depths of Catholicism!

I love so much how devoted Tolkien was to the Eucharist and it’s such a balm for my soul to see it, even just in a small way, reflected in Lembas.

I’ll talk to you all next week, but until then I’ll be on twitter and instagram (but mostly twitter) @teawithtolkien…

You might have heard me mention that after hosting my own hobbit parties for the past 7 or 8 years, I’m working on putting together all of my ideas and tips into one resource for all of you! It will be available probably within the next month but instead of selling it on my website, I’m going to first make it available for free to all of my patrons so if you’d like to sign up to become a patron of Tea with Tolkien you can head to patreon.com/teawithtolkien.

The guide won’t be available for purchase on its own until probably August or September otherwise.

Thank you so much for hanging out and having tea with me today!

Just another reminder that I’ll include the Lembas recipe in the show notes if you’d like to make a batch of your own. The recipe makes a ton because it was meant for Hobbit Party prep, but I cut it all in half yesterday when I wanted to make a smaller batch and it turned out perfectly so you can feel free to to do that as well.

I hope you all have a lovely week and we’ll be back next Tuesday for an exciting interview that I can’t wait to share with you!

Resources & Links:

Feb 12, 2019
Episode 8: An Introduction to Tolkien for Beginners

I wanted to start out by saying that these are just my opinions based on my love for Tolkien and what I’ve learned, so you may have found a different reading style that works for you and that’s okay!

I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’d like to tweet me @teawithtolkien, or send me an email - there’s a little contact form on my website, teawithtolkien.com.

Q: Should I start with The Hobbit or The Fellowship of the Ring?

  • This really depends and it’s up to you. If you want to ease yourself into Middle-Earth with something a little simpler and lighthearted, go for The Hobbit.

  • But if you want to just get straight to it, maybe go for The Fellowship.

  • Either way, you’re not doing it wrong, because although you’ll understand LOTR better if you read The Hobbit first, you will also be fine if you don’t want to at first.

Q: Should I read the prologue before beginning the Lord of the Rings?

  • You don’t have to, but you should at least read “Concerning Hobbits” and then read “Of the Finding of the Ring” if you haven’t read The Hobbit because it’s basically a summary of that story.

Q: What’s the pace of the stories? I struggle with slow-paced books.

  • The Hobbit has a faster pace than The Lord of the Rings. In LOTR, Tolkien takes a lot of time to carefully set the stage for everything to come, so the first two chapters move very slowly. If you can get past those, though, it does pick up a little.

Q: I hate his writing style. It’s way too descriptive for me. What do I do?

  • I mean there’s really nothing I can do for you if you feel like you hate Tolkien’s writing style, and I get that it’s very particular and so it won’t be for everyone. However, if it does feel to slow or descriptive for you and you find yourself getting lost, I recommend trying out the audiobook versions. I use audible, but you can also find them at pretty much any library.

Q: How do I remember all of their names?

  • Just like meeting new friends, it can be hard to remember many names when you’re reading them all at once. However, after you get to know the characters and maybe do another re-read, it becomes a lot easier. I’ve also found that watching the films or even looking at illustrations of the different characters helps a lot because it makes it easier to visualize what different characters look like, and if you’re watching the films, a voice.

Q: Which book do I read last?

  • This question is just absurd because you should never stop reading Tolkien, obviously.

Q: How many books did Tolkien publish?

  • A quick google search reveals… at least 31. There are so many!!

  • The most well-known ones of course are: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.

  • Then you have books expanding upon different chapters or stories from The Silmarillion: The Children of Hurin, Beren and Luthien, The Fall of Gondolin,

  • You have all of his essays, such as on Beowulf or On Fairy Stories

  • We have Roverandom, Mr. Bliss, Leaf by Niggle, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Smith of Wootton Major, and more.

  • And then on top of all of this, we have Tales from the Perilous Realm as well as  The History of Middle-Earth, a twelve-volume series of books, compiled and published by Tolkien’s son Christopher (much like the Silmarillion) that basically walks you through Tolkien’s process in the creation of Middle-Earth as a whole as he was working through it.

  • You can literally probably spend your whole life reading Tolkien if you wanted.

Q: At what age should I introduce my children to Tolkien?

  • I mean my babies have been immersed in the world of Tolkien since before they were born and I think it’s important to raise lifelong readers, but of course I’m trying to do this in an age-appropriate way. Just for starters, we have this little cloth book from an etsy shop called Sweet Sequels and it’s called “A Baby’s Guide to The Lord of the Rings”. We also have this little Samwise plush that Marigold loves. And then I have a children’s biography of Tolkien called “John Ronald’s Dragons” that my kids (ages 3 & 5) really like.

  • In terms of actually reading through the stories with them, I think anywhere around 7-9 is a good time to read The Hobbit with your kids, but it really depends on your family and their maturity. And then somewhere around 11-13 maybe we might begin The Lord of the Rings. But again, this depends a lot on your family and my oldest is 5 right now so I’m not sure. We’re just taking our time.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Peter Jackson films?

  • Lord of the Rings movies: yes.

  • The Hobbit movies: if you must.

This isn’t a question I’ve received but it’s a sentiment I’ve seen expressed on various, cursed corners of Twitter and it’s that people hate Tom Bombadil. So I just wanted to take a minute to say, I get it, I used to be annoyed by him too. He’s very goofy and his character doesn’t fit easily into a box and that bothers people, so they try to hate on him as if he wasn’t straight up amazing. If you’re annoyed by Tom’s songs, again, I recommend listening to the audiobooks. I love the one in particular narrated by Rob Inglis and I feel like he does a great job of the songs. I’m also including an article on Old Tom that you all might like in the show notes.

Bonus Q (from Kyle Helmick): Can I sing the songs to the tune of Mr. Brightside?

  • Yes, Kyle, please do this. I tried for a few minutes and couldn’t, so it’s up to you.

I hope you’ve found these questions and answers helpful! Again, I might know a bit about Tolkien but I’m by no means a Tolkien scholar yet, and I know everyone has different learning styles or preferences. I’m also including a few helpful links in the show notes, such as the Frequently Asked Questions page from the Tolkien Society’s website as well as links to some books that can help you get started with Tolkien.

And of course speaking of books, I should probably mention that I’ve written a companion journal and guide to help you read through The Lord of the Rings while also reflecting on the different elements of Catholicism we see in his work and with a goal of helping you grow in hobbitness and holiness. It’s called To Middle-Earth and Back Again and it’s available on Amazon in the US currently. I’m working on getting it printed and shipped worldwide, so if you wouldn’t mind saying a little prayer for me that the process would go smoothly, I would appreciate that! I’ll also include the link to the book in the show notes.

I also just wanted to put it out there that I’d love if you’d share this podcast with a friend who might also love it! That would mean the world to me! And if you think what Tea with Tolkien is doing is cool and you wanna be cool too, consider supporting us on patreon at patreon.com/teawithtolkien.

I hope you all have a wonderful week and I’ll be back next Tuesday to talk about Lembas and the Eucharist.


Jan 29, 2019
Episode 7: Squad Goals, Friendship in Middle-Earth

One of my favorite themes from The Lord of the Rings is friendship.

It’s something that carries through the entire story in many different ways, something we could probably spend hours chatting about if we had the time.

But we find it in the first part of the story, The Fellowship of the Ring, in particular.

Tolkien takes so much care, spending so much time laying a foundation of friendship in The Fellowship of the Ring, forming new friendships as we see with Legolas and Gimli, as well as strengthening existing ones as we see in Frodo and Sam and the other hobbits.

This is a lot like how Tolkien puts so much detail into introducing the Shire and the hobbit way of life to us in the beginning, so that we can better understand exactly what it is Frodo is leaving behind.

So Tolkien emphasizes friendship in The Fellowship -- I mean, it’s right there in the name. That’s what this book is about.

He does this, I think, so we can become familiar with these friendships and begin to understand them before they are tested in the chapters to come.

I wanted to read this quote from Book II, Chapter III, The Ring Goes South -- as Elrond is selecting the members of The Fellowship, he considers sending along two more elves to complete the number. Pippin is upset at the idea of being left behind to return to the Shire, saying he wants to go with Frodo. Elrond replies that this is only because he doesn’t understand the danger, but Gandalf unexpectedly supports Pippin.

“‘Neither does Frodo,’ said Gandalf, unexpectedly supporting Pippin. ‘Nor do any of us see clearly. It is true that if these hobbits understood the danger, they would not dare to go. But they would still wish to go, or wish that they dared, and be shamed and unhappy. I think, Elrond, that in this matter it would be well to trust rather to their friendship than to great wisdom. Even if you chose for us an Elf-lord, such as Glorfindel, he could not storm the Dark Tower, nor open the road to the Fire by the power that is in him.’” — The Ring Goes South

This quote from Gandalf pretty much sums up the whole role of friendship in The Lord of the Rings. Trusting in friendship rather than strength, wisdom, blah blah blah.  

There are so many different friendships we see in The Lord of the Rings, so I thought we could take a couple minutes to look at some of my favorites.

  • Frodo and Sam

    • Self-sacrificial friendship

    • There’s this dynamic within their friendship where Sam recognizes Frodo’s great need and gives of himself to help carry -- literally and figuratively, at times -- through his journey.

    • I think we might look at their friendship and feel as though it’s terribly imbalanced, and of course it is - but we also need to remember that Sam’s intense self-sacrifice for Frodo’s sake only lasted for a season. It was really only about 6 months from when Frodo and Sam left Bag End to when the Ring was destroyed.

    • There may be times in our life when someone we know and love will need us in this kind of way, maybe they’re going through some kind of a loss or transition or maybe they’re struggling with depression or maybe they’re fighting addiction, and having Sam as a representation of this availability and humility is something I find very encouraging.

  • Merry and Pippin

    • Merry and Pippin are kind of your classic example of best friends. They’re always looking out for each other, they’re on equal terms. They have a lot of fun together, but they’re also been through a lot.

  • Aragorn and Gandalf

    • The friendship between Aragorn and Gandalf, which is similar to Gandalf and basically anyone, is a mentor type of relationship. There’s a lot of respect given to Gandalf by those he guides, and he in turn leads them with a lot of care, always directed towards what he sees as best for them.

  • Fatty Bolger

    • I think we often overlook Fatty because he wasn’t willing to go on with Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin. But I really appreciate him a lot, to be honest. He serves as a reminder that not all of your friends have to be your best friends, to be good friends. You don’t have to be willing to die for them; you don’t have to follow them into Mordor. Sometimes, you can just be happy acquaintances with someone -- and that’s fine.

  • Legolas and Gimli

    • The friendship between Legolas and Gimli is probably the most unique within the story, as it marks the end of the long-standing hatred and distrust between the Dwarves and the Elves which is referred to many times throughout the books.

    • However, Legolas and Gimli form a fast friendship within the Fellowship of the Ring that carries through until the very end of the story -- and actually, even further.

    • We see in the appendices, at the very end of Appendix A, that the friendship between the two continued on even after the Fellowship was ended.

    • And after the death of King Elessar (Aragorn), Legolas and Gimli sailed over the Sea.

    • Gimli is actually the only Dwarf who was both allowed to, and desired to, go to Aman -- in Letter 154 Tolkien calls him Friend of Legolas and ‘servant’ of Galadriel.

    • I wanted to read the last paragraph of Appendix A:

    • “We have heard tell that Legolas took Gimli Glóin’s son with him because of their great friendship, greater than any that has been between Elf and Dwarf. If this is true, then it is strange indeed: that a Dwarf should be willing to leave Middle-earth for any love, or that the Eldar should receive him, or that the Lords of the West should permit it. But it is said that Gimli went also out of desire to see again the beauty of Galadriel; and it may be that she, being mighty among the Eldar, obtained this grace for him. More cannot be said of this matter.”

After looking at these different forms of friendship in The Lord of the Rings, what stood out to you?

And what does it even mean to be a friend, or to have one?

We are so disconnected and lonely that a lot of times we don’t even know what it means or what it might look like.

This quote from A Conspiracy Unmasked is one of my favorites:

“But it does not seem that I can trust anyone," said Frodo. Sam looked at him unhappily," It all depends on what you want," put in Merry. "You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin - to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours - closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo… We are horribly afraid - but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds."

So not only are Sam, Merry, and Pippin willing to follow Frodo into deadly peril, they’ve spent months preparing to do so.

And though Frodo is at first uncomfortable with accepting the help offered, in doing so he honors the bond of their friendship by trusting that they can truly, actually help him.

This kind of true friendship requires trust, vulnerability, dedication — from everyone involved.

As our Tea with Tolkien community read through the Fellowship of the Ring last year, a lot of people mentioned they had never experienced a friendship of this depth like we see between the hobbits or Legolas of Gimli…  (or if they had, it was something rare).

And that’s so sad! But it’s not uncommon. And it’s up to us to figure this out.

If you want to make a friend, you really can’t just sit around and wait for a friend to magically appear. You need to reach out and be uncomfortable to find someone else who also needs a friend.

Along the same lines, if you want to strengthen a friendship you already have, you’re gonna need to be intentional about making time for them, investing in their lives, and so on.

But I think a lot of it comes down to being available for people. Leave room in your life for friends.

Every time I’ve moved -- and I’ve moved like 13 times in the past 8 years -- and tried to find room for myself in whatever new community I’ve found myself in, it’s been so hard to make new friends because most people just don’t care about making new friends.They’re just not interested.

Most people, in my experience, by the time they’re adults and having kids and whatnot, have found their group of friends, have filled their lives up, and simply aren’t interested in adding anything new to the mix.

So here’s my take: consider leaving room -- for new friends, new opportunities, for new graces. You’d be surprised by what good comes from it!

Before we wrap this whole thing up I wanted to mention just some of the qualities of friendship we see in The Lord of the Rings and challenge you to focus on doing one of these things this week.

  • They offer and accept help when needed

  • They accompany one another through their struggles

  • They offer and accept correction and guidance, but they also know when to withhold advice, like when Celeborn does not advise the Fellowship on which path to take after they leave Lothlorien

  • They respect each other and the ‘level’ of their friendship

  • They eat and drink together

  • They invite each other into their homes, offering shelter and protection when needed

  • ...and more!

And now I just wanted to leave you with one point to ponder and chat about: Comparing the culture we live in to that of Hobbiton, why do you suppose our relationships are so much more disconnected than theirs?

I’ll talk to you all next week, but until then I’ll be on twitter and instagram (but mostly twitter) @teawithtolkien; you can support Tea with Tolkien on patreon at patreon.com/teawithtolkien for bonus mini podcasts, coloring pages, and more to come in the upcoming months; and for all of the other ways to connect check out www.teawithtolkien.com.

I hope you have a lovely week. Bye!

Jan 22, 2019
Episode 6: Love Mingled with Grief

The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater. — The Fellowship of the Ring

One of the threads woven throughout all of Tolkien’s writing is grief… so many of the tales of Middle-earth are steeped in sorrow. And so today, I hope it’s alright, I wanted to talk about love and grief, sorrow and joy, and the way they are at one in Eucatastrophe.

We see this paradox most plainly in the lives of the elves. They are the most beautiful of the children of Iluvatar, their goodness and strength are unmatched.

But because of their immortality, they have lived through many lifetimes of men. They have seen the best and the worst…

Galadriel says to Frodo in Book II, chapter 7, that she has spent many ages fighting the “long defeat” as she calls it.

“the long defeat”, a phrase Tolkien also uses in Letter 195:

“Actually I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ –though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.” - Tolkien, Letter 195

Within the lifetime of the Elves, they have seen the world as it grows dim. In both a figurative and literal sense. Arda at first was lit by the two lamps, which were knocked down by Melkor, and then the two trees of Valinor, which were destroyed by Melkor and Ungoliant, and then at last the sun and the moon were made. So even just in this sense, the light within the world has diminished…

And so too within all the battles throughout all the ages, the Elves have seen as evil has slowly seeped into every corner of the earth. The long defeat.

And yet, the Elves sing. They are often merry and joyful. They throw the most amazing parties!  They are filled with so much goodness and peace despite their sorrow.

In Book I, Chapter IV, Sam says “They are quite different from what I expected –so old and young, and so gay and sad, as it were.’

This kind of paradox of joy mingled with sorrow, I think, is at the heart of The Lord of the Rings. Especially within the tale’s endings.

Tolkien cared so deeply for this concept that he coined the term Eucatasteophe: “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears…” - Letter 89

Later in the same letter he wrote:

“The resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story –and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love. “

Throughout all of The Lord of the Rings we expedience small moments of Eucatastrophe, when all Hope seems lost for Frodo in the Barrow-Downs and Tom Bombadil Busts In to save them, when Merry and Éowyn face the Witch king of Angmar and destroy him, when the battle seems lost but Hope is rekindled… at the Crack of Doom when Frodo betrays his quest and claims the Ring as his own, but Providence provides another way for it to be accomplished.

But there’s one scene in particular that just stays with me.

We see this mingling of joy and grief within a character that feels so much more familiar, someone I see myself in more than the Elves: Samwise Gamgee.

At the end of the War of the Ring, in Return is the King — The Field of Cormallen

When Sam awakens in Ithilien, he and Frodo have survived their quest, he sees Gandalf before them and asks “is everything sad going to come untrue?”

I’ve found so much comfort in that phrase, and often paired it with Revelation 21:5 “And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Later in this chapter, they are all gathered together in celebration —

“ And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.”

The topic of grief has weighed heavily on my heart over the past few weeks.

January is a difficult month for me, as It marks the anniversary of our miscarriage. I found out I was pregnant on January 9, 2015 only to find out on January 14th that I was losing the baby. Within that span of five days, I experienced so much joy as I fell so hard in love with this little baby, mingled with so much grief as I realized I would never get to hold him or her, to really know them at all.

And even in all of the grief and wondering what things would have been life, even four years later, there is also a sense of peace that I cling to in knowing that our little baby is held so safely in the arms of Jesus.

I found this quote in Letter 45 and I wanted to share it with you all:

There is a place called ‘heaven’ where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued. We may laugh together yet...” - Letter 45, from 1941

In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory. Farewell!” - Return of the King, Appendix B

Is everything sad going to come untrue?

Behold, I am making all things new…

Jan 15, 2019
Episode 5: Concerning Conversion (Feat. Alex Facista)

This week I had my husband Alex on to discuss our conversion to the Catholic faith. This is a subject I’ve had a lot of you ask about, so I was excited to be able to chat about it with him. This past weekend was the fifth anniversary of our conversion, so I thought it would be a lovely time. I hope you’ll enjoy it! We also talked about Mabel Tolkien, John Ronald’s mother, and her own conversion and the impact it had on her sons.

In this episode, we talked about:

  • the different faith traditions we were brought up in

  • how we first became interested in Catholicism

  • the somewhat unusual way we were finally received into the Church

  • talking to our family about our conversion

  • what it’s been like adjusting to Catholic life

  • and more!


Jan 08, 2019
Episode 4: Ways to be more of a Hobbit at Heart in the new year (plus, a giveaway!)

A few excerpts from Concerning Hobbits

Hobbits “love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favorite haunt.”

“As for the Hobbits of the Shire, with whom these tales are concerned, in the days of their peace and prosperity they were a merry folk. They dressed in bright colours, being notably fond of yellow and green…”

“Their faces were as a rule good-natured rather than beautiful, broad, bright-eyed, red-cheeked, with mouths apt to laughter, and to eating and drinking. And laugh they did, and eat, and drink, often and heartily, being fond of simple jests at all times, and of six meals a day (when they could get them). They were hospitable and delighted in parties, and in presents, which they gave away freely and eagerly accepted.”

“They were, if it came to it, difficult to daunt or to kill; and they were perhaps, so unwearyingly fond of good things not least because they could, when put to it, do without them, and could survive rough handling by grief, foe, or weather in a way that astonished those who did not know them well and looked no further than their bellies and their well-fed faces…”

“The Shire at this time had hardly any ‘government’. Families for the most part managed their own affairs. Growing food and eating it occupied most of their time. In other matters they were, as a rule, generous and not greedy, but contented and moderate, so that estates, farms, workshops, and small trades tended to remain unchanged for generations.”

“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” - The Hobbit

Ways to Be More of a Hobbit at Heart
in the New Year

  • Spend more time outside

    • Next time it’s nice outside, grab a book and read a little

    • Go for a hike or walk along a trail

    • Have a picnic!

  • Take some breaks from the internet

  • Consider starting a garden, it can be small if you’re just starting out

  • Less fast food, more home cooking

  • Be intentional about being hospitable, make a point of inviting others into your home

  • Give gifts as often and as generously as you are able

  • Spend time in fellowship with others

  • Host at least one party this year

  • Maybe this year you’ll learn how to brew beer

  • Maybe smoke a little pipe tobacco with friends

  • Look for opportunities to humble yourself

  • Let your Yes mean Yes and No mean No

    • Frodo didn’t accept the task of carrying the Ring halfheartedly, once he said yes he stayed committed as long as he could

  • Become a better friend.

    • Everyone needs a Samwise. Be intentional about becoming a better friend to someone who needs one this year.

  • Eat more Second Breakfast.

  • Sit beside the fire and just think every so often, ponder things

  • Read and write poetry

  • Host a Hobbit Party! Every September 22 we host a party in celebration of Frodo and Bibo’s birthdays, you should too. I have tons of ideas here.

Favorite Tweets (see the whole thread here)

Zegg Noggenour‏ @zgochenour: (go-ken-hour)  The heart of the hobbit lifestyle is hospitality. One of my favorite hobbit practices is giving gifts on your birthday.

hannah  🎄‏ @hanmariams -staycations are good
-give yourself an afternoon break for tea
-learn how to garden or at least keep a plant alive from Trader Joe’s
-disappear from birthday parties in dramatic fashion

Robert the Nobody‏ @Robert_in_MN

-Be content with where you are but don't turn down a grand adventure if it's presented to you.
-Wear more bright colours
-Take time to contemplate, preferably with a pipe or tea
-Eat six small meals throughout the day
-Be proud of who you are and where you come from

Nick Senz‏ @NickSenz

Get to know and fall in love with your own local area: the woods, the fields, little rivers. Like Sam, become an expert on every nook and cranny of your natural neighborhood. Attachment to place seems very hobbitish.

Jake The Great‏ @jakecmelik

Start with, "Hobbits are a representation of of how Tolkien saw Chesterton: Authentic, merry, with a pipe and pint."

Links Mentioned

The Giveaway (A Blessed is She Planner!)

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(Giveaway! 🎉) This is the time of year where many (most? some? maybe?) of us are sitting down to plan for the new year, thinking about our hopes and goals for the days to come, and hopefully feeling at least slightly less hectic now that Christmas is finally here! 🌲 I’ve been using my @blessedisshe__ planner for the past two years and it’s been such a wonderful tool for helping stay somewhat on-task, for remembering important liturgical dates, and for basically just having one (beautiful) place to keep all of my plans and goals and to-do lists. I wanted to help one of you get a little more prepared for the new year by giving away one of these planners! 📚 To enter, make sure you’re following me @teawithtolkien, leave a comment about one of your goals for 2019, and tag two friends who might also love this planner! This giveaway is not sponsored (I purchased the planner with my own money to give away because I love you all and I love Blessed is She), and not affiliated with Instagram. This giveaway is open internationally as well! And I’ll close the entries at the end of the day on Jan. 3 and announce the winner on the 4th. 📚 For a bonus entry, share this giveaway in your insta story and tag me so I see it!

A post shared by Kaitlyn | Tea with Tolkien (@teawithtolkien) on

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Jan 01, 2019
Episode 3: December 25, The Ring Goes South

Merry Christmas! I hope you had a fruitful advent season and that you’re enjoying the beginning of the Christmas season. I hope you’ll be able to find a few minutes to unwind from all of the festivities and have a cup of tea with me and Tolkien today!

I was so excited when I realized Christmas day fell on a Tuesday this year because it meant I would get to record a special Christmas episode. Aside from being Christmas day of course, December 25th is actually quite the important date in The Lord of the Rings as well.

It is the date that the Fellowship left from Rivendell, officially marking the beginning of Frodo’s quest! (but you might not know it without the Appendices -- this date is in Appendix B!)

“Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely House east of the Sea.

That house was perfect, as Bilbo had long ago reported,

‘a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or story-telling or singing,

or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.’

Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.”

Tolkien didn’t choose dates unintentionally, especially considering the date he chose for the destruction of the Ring on March 25th

In The Spirit of Liturgy, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) explained, “Jewish tradition gave the date of March 25 to Abraham’s sacrifice... This day was also regarded as the day of creation, the day when God’s word decreed: ‘Let there be light.’ It was also considered, very early on, as the day of Christ’s death and eventually as the day of his conception.." This date is also the officially celebrated Feast of the Annunciation, the celebration of the Incarnation, Mary's fiat.

Considering its importance in Jewish and Christian tradition, it feels natural that Tolkien chose for March 25th to bear such significance to the history of Middle-Earth. Three major events took place on March 25th: first and foremost, it is the date on which the One Ring is destroyed; secondly, on the same date the following year, Frodo returns home to the Shire; and the following year, Elanor the Fair is born.

So what does it mean that Tolkien chose December 25th as the date the Fellowship left Rivendell?

The journey begins on December 25th, the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, and ends on the date of his Crucifixion.

This strengthens any ideas we might have had about the Ring representing Sin in some way, or the different ways members of The Fellowship act as Christ figures.

Rivendell is a safe place, a place of refuge and healing, and it is in Rivendell that we see Frodo’s fiat -- he accepts the burden of the Ring no matter what the pains he may experience

So in leaving the safety of Rivendell, we are reminded of Christ’s birth.

Just as Jesus left the safety of Mary’s womb on Dec 25, Frodo is leaving the safety of Rivendell to begin the dangerous and difficult work of the salvation of Middle Earth.

When Jesus is born, he leaves behind the safety and warmth of his mother’s womb and join us in the cold, broken world. Almost immediately he is in danger, as the Holy Family is forced to flee to Egypt to escape King Herod. He has come into the world for a purpose, and he has a hard road ahead of him.

This kind of perspective isn’t really something I had ever reflected on before.

We often see Christmas a joyful occasion, and of course it is, but for Jesus himself it marked the beginning of his life of sacrifice. And I am so grateful to him for accepting this role.

So as we begin to celebrate the Christmas season, in joyous memory of Christ’s birth, we also begin to look forward to lent, Holy Week, to Christ’s crucifixion.  

Just as The Fellowship embarks on their quest to destroy the ring, Christ’s birth marks the beginning of his quest towards the destruction of sin and all of the death and brokenness

I hope you all have a beautiful Christmas season!

PS I also wanted to recommend another Christmasy podcast series I think you might enjoy. My friends over at the Roman Circus podcast have put together a series of mini episodes for each of the twelve days of Christmas featuring different guests, and they invited me on for the 5th day of Christmas so I hope you’ll give it a listen.

Dec 25, 2018
Episode 2: An Unexpected Book List
Dec 18, 2018
Episode 1: A Long-Expected Podcast

Thanks so much for listening to Tea with Tolkien, a podcast for the Hobbit at Heart! In this episode, I chat a little bit about what my hopes are for this podcast and how I hope to encourage you to read more Tolkien and grow in Hobbitness and Holiness.

Wanna get more connected with the Tea with Tolkien community?

Read more about the heart of Tea with Tolkien here.

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater" - Haldir

Dec 11, 2018
Episode 0: Chatting with Lily

Thank you so much for listening to our first little test episode, where I’m joined by my daughters Lily and Marigold. In this episode, we chat about why hobbits have hair on their feet, why Gollum is so scary, and what it’s like to be a hobbit kid. Listen to the very end to hear Marigold saying mama. I hope you like this tiny test episode and I can’t wait to share more (real) podcasts with all of you soon. :)

Nov 30, 2018