Episode 59
February 5, 2024

I Physically Recoiled from the Book at That Point

Hosted by Jared Pechaček, Ned Raggett, and Oriana Schwindt

Jared, Oriana and Ned discuss Oriana’s choice of topic: Silicon Valley’s misinterpretation and fetishization of Tolkien. Tolkien of course lived in a time where computers were mostly huge rooms containing one machine or two that he doubtless considered little more than another example of why the industrial age didn’t suit his mindset on many fronts. But in the half-century since his death the PC era up through smartphones and TikTok have made the industry one of the biggest and most influential in the world – which is the problem. The issues discussed are hardly limited to them but two of its most well-known and notorious avatars in recent years, Peter Thiel and his protege Palmer Luckey, have among other things named various businesses of questionable use and worth (at best) after characters and terms from Tolkien’s legendarium as part of their general quest to own everything and be everywhere whether one likes it or not. There is, however, the small problem that they think they might be Aragorns when it’s much more accurate to call them Saruman and Wormtongue. What are the roots of Thiel’s own particular worldview in particular, shaped by colonial legacies of the kind that Tolkien himself notably loathed? What are the various poisonous ironies of naming particular businesses after certain Tolkien-derived terms considering their original meaning and what they now represent? Can the Tolkien Estate themselves actually do anything about the use and misuse of such terms to start with? And why in the world did Thiel think that a good choice of quote from Tolkien was in fact a quote from an original Rankin-Bass song instead?

Show Notes.

Jared’s doodle. Remember, the idea is to NOT be this kind of person.

Queen Margrethe bows out, and hey, why not enjoy retirement?

One of various pieces on Margrethe’s Tolkien illustrations, with some relevant samples.

We share TheOneRing.net’s piece mentioned for reasons of completeness. Our eyes remain gimlet.

Never invent the torment nexus.

Peter Thiel. Great. Just great. The biography Oriana and Jared read for the episode was Max Chafkin’s The Contrarian.

Techno-fascism! RETVRN! Terms that should not exist but here we are. Umberto Eco’s “Ur-Fascism” is worth your time.

Palantir Technologies. Oh, how lovely. Human rights, what are those! And why are they even slightly involved with the NHS? (Beyond Tories being Tories.)

Palmer Luckey. Another piece of work, for fun! Founder of Anduril Industries, about which this 2018 Wired article reveals more maybe than anyone involved intended.

Ah, Ready Player One and Ernest Cline. We’re…not fans.

If you want to know our thoughts on “The Greatest Adventure” and more besides, enjoy our Rankin-Bass Hobbit episode

That whole taking your money with you when you die thing, jeez. Mother Jones with the details. As Ned said, go the Chinese burial money route instead.

The Last Ringbearer aka the Russian LOTR revamp, as we’ve referred to before.

Wicked the book is not Wicked the musical. (Soon to be Wicked the movie musical.)

Tim Alberta’s book, which probably isn’t light nighttime reading, is The Kingdom, The Power and the Glory. This excerpt mentioned focuses on his father’s church; the further anecdote recalled is from another piece elsewhere, possibly by Alberta.

Tolkien Gateway has some of the further details from Unfinished Tales on palantir technology as such.

The TechCrunch article about Anduril Industries’s rather paranoid geopolitical dreams.

Quick reminder about our orcs episode and the various issues that crop up with them. (Plus the Scouring of the Shire episode.)

Blood in the Machine by Brian Merchant takes a proper historical look at the Luddites as part of a meditation on labor and Big Tech in the present.

Thiel buying his New Zealand citizenship was not great! At least James Cameron put in the time and actually did stuff.

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