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Riddles in the Dark 2.09: In Case of Emergency, Call the Elven King

Laketown and its place in the North are the focus of this Riddles in the Dark episode.   Tolkien Professor Corey Olsen and co-hosts Dave Kale...

Laketown and its place in the North are the focus of this Riddles in the Dark episode.


Tolkien Professor Corey Olsen and co-hosts Dave Kale and Trish Lambert talk about the political and socioeconomic situation of Laketown in this episode of Riddles in the Dark. What kind of relationship does Laketown (and the Master) have with the Wood Elves (and the Elven King)? Is the Master a despot or simply a corrupt politician? Will the Girion and his descendants even be part of the story? Inquiring minds want to know!

Download: .mp3 (right click and choose “Save As…” to download)

Riddle: How will the political and economic relationship between Laketown and the Elves of Mirkwood be portrayed?

A. They have a trading agreement (wine or other commodities via barrels, etc.) and are political allies (book answer).

B. They have a trading agreement but aren’t allied at all.

C. They are allied but have no trading agreement.

D. They are not allied and have no trading agreement.

Many thanks to the Lonely Mountain Band for allowing our use of their wonderful music to accompany the episodes. Season 2 sees excerpts from their new album “Songs of the Dwarves.” Intro: Battle of Azanulbizar; Outro: The Sevenfold Meeting.


  1. Murray June 20, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    While LOTR refers to ‘King Brand’, in The Hobbit, when Bard emerges from the water to general acclaim, the Master of Laketown says Bard’s ancestor was ‘Lord of Dale, not of Laketown’. He does not call the ancestor ‘King’. A lord can be a noble of almost any rank, but I would think if there had been a king, the Master would have used the term.

    PS I cannot believe Corey still claims there was ‘explicit vassalage’ by the Elven King to the King Under the Mountain. A nod of the head with the hand over the heart is not an expression of vassalage. Time to let that go, Professor.

  2. Denis June 25, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Interested to hear the Game of Thrones references. This is a bit off topic I know, but I watched an interview on youtube of GRRM in which he made the following comment.

    QUOTE: ” You have to “show that this stuff is hard,” he says. “An awful lot of fantasy, and even some great fantasy, falls into the mistake of assuming that a good man will be a good king, that all that is necessary is to be a decent human being and when you’re king everything will go swimmingly.”

    Even Tolkien, who he respects greatly (“All modern fantasy flows from Tolkien, he says), has this problem.

    “Aragorn is king now and the land will prosper and the crops will be good and justice for all and the enemies will all be defeated,” he says of the ending of The Return of the King. “You never get into the nitty gritty of Aragorn ruling and what is his tax policy and what are his views on crop rotation — these are the hard parts of ruling, be it the middle ages or now.” END QUOTE

    Now I’ve seen a number of GRRM interviews, and almost universally he cites JRRT as a great influence on himself and the genre, GRRM is by no means a JRRT hater, quite the opposite in fact. I really think he has a point, one well worth discussing on an episode…….

    Great warriors are assumed to make great kings, the goodies win, a new age begins and a new age of peace and prosperity commences. It’s all a little too easy, and in contrast to GRRM’s gritty realism, it all feels a little juvenile – like the ending of a Disney cartoon (oh wow how he’d hate to read that huh?)

    The other point GRRM makes in interviews is so many series have characters neatly divided into good and evil, usually wearing white and black respectively. As he points out, humans rarely fall into one camp or the other. Tolkien’s writing is very black and white, good and evil and he assumes that great warriors and leaders during war will make great kings. Most characters will fall into the ‘goodie’ or ‘baddie’ camp, with a few stand out exceptions such as Gollum. But even Gollum, like Saruman and Boromir, were affected by the influence or desire for the ring – a powerful magical object. It was not greed or ambition alone that caused them to fall.

    So many authors followed in JRRT’s footsteps, with fantasy series involving a quest, an object, and clear goodies and baddies. The Goodies always won, the baddies always lose. LIke him or not, GRRM has shaken up a lot of those long lasting stereotypes. I think the contrast is very interesting.

  3. Michael Lucero July 19, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    I meant to post this a long time ago, sorry. For the people who were having trouble picturing what some of the non-book options of the riddle would look like, for B I was thinking something like Norway in the mid to late Middle Ages, with the Hanseatic League. The Hanseatic League had a trading agreement in Norway, which gave them certain economic privileges that were either exclusive or greater than those of other countries, but Norway was not allied with the League at all, so they had no military obligations to each other. I could see something like this in the film, where Thranduil says “We trade with them, we don’t fight for them,” and Legolas and Tauriel try to persuade him otherwise. I don’t like this myself, but given what Jackson did with Aragorn not wanting to be king and Theoden at first not wanting to honor his alliance with Gondor, I can see this change happening. It would also make the Elvenking’s decision to ally with Laketown after Smaug’s death even more suspicious and questionable and add to the drama, i.e., what is Thranduil up to now?

    For C, I can see them doing something like having an alliance that Thranduil must honor, but since they had no trading agreement (and this would not seem strange in film world, since given all the waterfalls there’s no way to get the barrels back to Mirkwood) they’ve had virtually no contact with each other and have almost forgotten about one another. In this scenario, the Master would be very suspicious of the Elvenking, and have almost no knowledge of him, and might use some of his minions (like Alfrid and some of the other Laketown minor characters that have been cast) to try to double cross the Elves, which could lead to his public shame and the eventual rise of Bard.

  4. Halstein December 1, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    This is a hard one. There is a distinct possibility that the relation with the Wood-elves and Lake-town is not discussed in the movies at all. If formal treaties are meant, I will guess there are none. So I will vote D, even if B is also something I would consider.



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