All Four Recommended

A while ago, and for too brief a time, I really enjoyed listening to a few podcasts while I worked. I stopped listening to them because I one part fell out of love with them and one part Never Got Round To Listening To The Next One. But they were good podcasts and I think if I am going to stop listening to any of them I’d like it to be because they no longer speak to me rather than because of impatience or laziness.

So, last week I started again. Here’s what I listened to:

The Prancing Pony Podcast. American.
Two guys chatting their way through Tolkien’s Middle-Earth stories, or at least, The Silmarillion. I rejoined them at Episode 46 – the first of a two parter on The Akallabêth – Tolkien’s version of the Atlantis myth.

What I like most about The Prancing Pony Podcast is the hosts’ enthusiasm for their subject – it shines out – and their readings of the text; they handled Tolkien’s sonorous prose really well. Episode 46 had a few interesting insights (my favourite being a comparison of the phial of Galadriel and the Two Trees of Valinor) but I didn’t come away from it thinking I had learnt so very much about The Akallabêth. That was fine, though, as the podcast’s strength – for me, anyway, lies in its conversational tone and hosts’ enthusiasm: in their just being there while I am doing a boring job.

What did I like less about The Prancing Pony Podcast? This is a real challenge as the answer is I did not like their dumb humour so much. The problem is that when it comes to Tolkien, I love his books so much I only ever want to hear a serious discussion about them. As a result, I get impatient if the speakers waste time being silly or even make jokes about the text.

LECTOR: You need to lighten up, MJM.
Yes, reader, I do, so I am determined to keep listening to The Prancing Pony and, whenever the two guys (whose names, I might as well tell you, are Alan Sisto and Shawn E. Marchese) start cracking jokes, remind myself that (a) they love Tolkien’s books as much as I do and (b) it’s good to share a joke or three sometimes. Stop being so serious.

Thursday I
Talking Tolkien. American.
It took me to the last paragraph above to name the hosts of The Prancing Pony Podcast so I will do so right at the outset here. It has three hosts. Or, two hosts and one hostess, if you like: Chase, Jonathan and Katie. It is likely that they have surnames but as they aren’t used in their bios on the Talking Tolkien website I shan’t scramble around to try and find them for here.

Anyway, like PP, TT takes a conversational look at JRRT’s M-e books. Previously, I started listening to the podcast at the start of their walk-through of The Lord of the Rings so I picked it up with the next episode: Part 5 Concerning Tom Bombadils.

Now, I have to admit, Talking Tolkien fell out of favour with me before due to the same ‘fault’ that I found with The Prancing Pony. I am resuming listening for the same reason as above.

What is good about Talking Tolkien? Well, just that it is a good, friendly, discussion about Tolkien. That’s all, and what more could one want? The personalities of the three podcasters comes across very strongly in this series. Chase doesn’t have a beard (according to the photograph on the TT website) but when I listen to it I imagine him to have one, and to be a Hagrid sized man who OOOHs and AHHHs a lot when he is told something that surprises him. Jonathan is more professorial although he can be very silly-in-a-mostly-good-way. Katie at the moment is just Katie. I shall try and invent an image for her next week.

Is there anything apart from the humour issue that I didn’t like about Talking Tolkien? No.

Thursday II
As We Like It. Two Thirds Canadian/One Third American.
This podcast series – hosted by the above mentioned Jonathan, and Mark and Aven – focusses on films based on or inspired by Shakespeare’s plays. I have great respect for As We Like It as it is through this podcast that I discovered My Own Private Idaho last year. I watched the film after hearing J, M & A discuss it and loved it immediately. I must watch it again.

On Thursday, I listened to them discuss Charlton Heston’s adaptation of Antony and Cleopatra. Unfortunately, the film did not meet with their approval. Among its problems were that it cut a lot of the play – including most or nearly all of Cleopatra’s lines – out and that Heston did not convince as Antony. To be sure, they did not regard the film as a disaster but neither was it that good. A shame. It would have been good to have come back to As We Like It with a film that had me rushing for iTunes movies in the evening but you can’t win ’em all.

So, what was good about As We Like It? The hosts were all very knowledgeable. Actually in this episode, Mark felt like he was in the margins a bit – perhaps he didn’t have much to say – but Jonathan and Aven carried the conversation well. They definitely know their William S.

Anything not so good? I think Jonathan was using a cheap microphone as he sounded quite echoey but it wasn’t off putting. In terms of the content of the podcast, only the film was not up to much.

In Our Time. British.
From 2015 – Melvyn Bragg discussing Alexander the Great with Paul Cartledge, Diana Spencer and Rachel Mairs.

Before listening to this episode of In Our Time, I had heard of Paul Cartledge. I had even seen him give a talk at the Hellenic Centre in London, once; he was promoting one of his books, copies of which he kindly signed for sundry people, including myself, afterwards. His talk was very knowledgeable and he was very friendly.
Before the podcast I think I had heard of Diana Spencer but I can’t remember in what capacity. I wonder if I have one of her books and haven’t read it?
Unfortunately, I had not heard of Rachel Mairs. I must look her up. With any luck she’ll be on Twitter.

The best thing about this podcast was obviously that here were people discussing Alexander!!! What more could one want? That aside, despite the fact that here were three academics talking about Alexander the content of the show was, in a sense, quite ‘shallow’. This is not a criticism of Cartledge, Spencer and Mairs. I suspect it came about because this was a programme for the general public whose knowledge of Alexander will be slight to non-existent rather than people like me who know his story inside out and (almost, in my case) back to front.

The best moment of the podcast was Cartledge discussing the mass weddings at Susa (324 BC) when, he said, Alexander had an insight (i.e regarding the dignity of the Persians) that no one had ever had before. If Paul Cartledge was Doctor Who he might at that point have regenerated into W. W. Tarn (ha ha. Sorry. In joke) but he did not go so far as to say that Alexander believed in the Unity of Mankind.

The worst moments of the podcast came with Melvyn Bragg once or twice sounding a bit bored or impatient. Perhaps he was having a bad day. He was not rude, or anything like that, so it didn’t detract from the fun of listening to the podcast.

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2 Responses to All Four Recommended

  1. Diana Spencer? As in the Princess of Wales?


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