PC032: Senator Bilbo

By Andy Duncan.
Read by Frank Key (of Hooting Yard)

Dear Americans,

Happy Election Day. As we all go to the polls and wait with mixed anticipation and anxiety for the poll results, PodCastle is happy to bring you into the electoral politics of another world — Tolkein’s — dealing with a trope all sides of the political spectrum can agree on, corrupt senators.

The rest of the world, I hope you’ll forgive our electoral America-centrism, and I hope you enjoy the story.

The Senator jotted down Appledore’s name without pause. He could get a lot of work done while making speeches – even a filibuster nine hours long (and counting).

“There are forces at work today, my friends, without and within our homeland, that are attempting to destroy all boundaries between our proud, noble race and all the mule-gnawing, cave-squatting, light- shunning, pit-spawned scum of the East.”

The Senator’s voice cracked on “East,” so he turned aside for a quaff from his (purely medicinal) pocket flask. His allies did not miss their cue. “Hear, hear,” they rumbled, thumping the desktops with their calloused heels. “Hear, hear.”

“This latest proposal,” the Senator continued, “this so-called immigration bill – which, as I have said, would force even our innocent daughters to suffer the reeking lusts of all the ditch-bred legions of darkness – why, this baldfooted attempt originated where, my friends?”

“Buckland!” came the dutiful cry.

“Why, with the delegation from Buckland. . . long known to us all as a hotbed of book-mongers, one-Earthers, elvish sympathizers, and other off-brands of the halfling race.”

Rated PG. For bigotry and orcs.

Please visit the thread on this story in our forums.

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19 Responses so far

  1. 1

    phignewton said,

    November 4, 2008 @ 3:34 pm

    was there rampant speciasm in Bilbos world? Certainly there was constant splitting of orc heads and such but i have a feeling elves and dwarfs would have just as soon been slaughtering each other.. and humans… no qualms there. How about a story where Saruman attempts to bring the green revolution and advanced technology to the shire and is turned on by short sighted and ungratefull halflings… or um.. one where bilbo, gandalph and the elves sit about ‘the west’ creaking around tugging up their shorts, complaining about the weather and their chilblains…

  2. 2

    David said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 3:14 am

    A very appropriate story for the occasion. I found the Senators claim that it was the trolls whose brains had ossified especially funny, given his behavior. Keep it coming!

  3. 3

    Hyperion said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 7:00 am

    I have read every comment on every story presented at PodCastle, and sometimes I cringe at the some of the criticism, which appears reflexive, or else looking to take umbrage over imaginary fiefdoms.


    I guess I join those ranks, for “Senator Bilbo” really rubbed me the wrong way. It wasn’t Frank Key’s reading, dependably excellent as always, or even the story itself. For what it was, Andy Duncan laid out the tale clearly with descriptive panache, creating memorable characters quickly, and making halfling bureaucracy not seem wonkish . The tale was about as subtle as a third grade play, but I suppose if social commentary is the aim, “let that be your last battlefield.”

    My problem is twofold:

    Mixing politics into any story, especially fantasy, is a tricky proposition. If it’s organic from the material, that’s one thing, but an obvious pastiche can look tacky. In particular, the subject of immigration and racial/national identity is at the very least challenging, and treating it with some Boolean-like “either/or” morality reduces both the story and the struggle.

    My bigger issue is with the milieu. Certainly Fantasy is no sacred cow, and is as deserving of parody or satire as any genre. Witness the witty and hilarious “Hallah Iron Thighs” of a few weeks ago. However, in that story, the humor derives mostly from the personal struggles of an aging woman blended into the chain-mail babe setting. Fun is poked, but at the tropes, archetypes and cliches of barbarian tales, not at anything specific.

    I think “Senator Bilbo” could have achieved its purpose with a recognizable but generic fantasy setting. There was no need to swipe another’s , and of all people, Mr. Tolkien. Say what you want about him; modern fantasy, including this podcast, would not be here without his imagination and hard work.

    Tolkien fans have surely read the theories that LOTR is an allegory for WWII, and industrial gentrification of Tolkien’s homeland. You must also know how abhorrent the author found those ideas, and how adamant he was to the bitter end that Middle Earth was as wholly separate a place as he could make it.

    If Tolkien were alive today and read this story, and I think he would be mortified. Now, I believe in artistic freedom, and certainly a cultural icon is fair game, but I just cannot help but wonder why this subject, and why this place. It cheapens the “clever,” and makes me sad to see it.

  4. 4

    LittleLotus said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 3:10 pm

    One big snore. I really wanted to turn it off, but I was enjoying listening to Frank Key’s fabulous voice. Although I love this podcast and listen to it religiously, I found that this was the lowest of the low. My biggest problem with it was why should I care? What does this have to do with The Lord of the Rings? Other than a racist, I didn’t see much character development until the very end and even then it was the classic: if you can’t beat them, join them.

  5. 5

    Yet another Mike said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 11:18 pm

    Please oh please no more Frank Key narrated stories. I get that he’s somewhat of a fan favorite for some people, but really his lack of any kind of enunciation and tongue-twisting over every other word makes it impossible to gain any kind of interest into the story. The last two stories he’s read, I really can’t say if they’re any good or not because 5-10 minutes in I just give up on listening to them. I’m almost at the point where if I hear his voice narrating, I’m just not going to listen to it. It may not be fair, but I listen to this podcast to relax and instead I find myself getting aggravated by listening to this guy, so please no more.

  6. 6

    Indigo said,

    November 6, 2008 @ 3:28 am

    I really felt alot of sympathy for this guy. I mean he comes from a time of war where racism is a defence machanism. He learned to act a certain way because his guardians wanted him to be safe. The man barely understood what was going on around him, I don’t know how he was supposed to keep up with changing times. I have seen this behaviour condoned before but it raises the question; What do you do with these people? Especially if they hold any kind of power and even have done wonderfull things.

  7. 7

    Bob Weber said,

    November 7, 2008 @ 4:51 pm

    Unfortunately, I have to agree with Mike. I really appreciate all your readers, and Mr. Key has a very interesting voice, but I do have a hard time listening to the stories he narrates.

    Great podcast, and great stories. It’s really nothing personal, just tough for me to focus with this reader.

  8. 8

    Reverend Loki said,

    November 7, 2008 @ 5:21 pm

    I didn’t think that the choice of narrator would be one of the big points of issue in the first 7 comments here. I personally enjoyed the narration, and thought he was a particularly good choice to narrate this story. So, as far as Frank Key goes, mark me in the “for”category.

    As for the story, I found it nice, if a bit heavy handed. I understand that, in the restrictive frame of the short story some elements of longer form story telling by necessity must be given less precedence, but it’s almost as if Subtlety and Nuance were taken out behind the shed and beaten in the writing of this one. Still, it was a decent enough story.

    I must ask, though – did this story seem to end way to abruptly for anyone else? Almost like an arbitrary stopping point, a boundary if you will, was decided upon, and any and all words beyond were declared “foreign” and forbidden from settling on this story’s soils.

  9. 9

    scatterbrain said,

    November 9, 2008 @ 8:07 pm

    Another Frank Key read–Andy Duncan written story? So soon? It’s, it’s, it’s almost too good to be true! There be some kind of god afterall…

    Damn Tory/Republican hobbits and their hulking gay troll skinhead bodyguards; they’re everywhere these days!

  10. 10

    scatterbrain said,

    November 11, 2008 @ 10:41 pm

    Sorry. That should be “There might be some kind of god afterall…”

  11. 11

    J said,

    November 14, 2008 @ 3:52 am

    anyone else think escapeartist stories have been getting far more anvilicious lately?

  12. 12

    TDW said,

    November 14, 2008 @ 8:17 am

    Interesting take on the events after the war, but then it just cuts off. Rather annoying ending as it felt like the whole premise to the story was to lead you up to a cheap joke. This needs a sequel or adleast a longer ending.
    btw gay trolls ftw

  13. 13

    loren said,

    November 15, 2008 @ 1:07 am

    Long time lurker, first time poster. I really did enjoy this story, narration and all. I understand and respect Tolkien’s influence on the fantasy genre, but I don’t think that his contributions, no matter how impressive, warrant that we cast a magical sacrosanct spell over his work, people have been creating derivatives of his worlds for years, it’s refreshing to see some one dispose of all pretense and take on middle earth directly. It’s an interesting question, racial determinism in the world of fantasy and I was glad to see it touched on in this story. For an interesting post on the topic (and other fantasy tropes) see: http://scifimedia.blogspot.com/2006/09/fantasy-cliches-and-why-i-want-to-kill.html

  14. 14

    ilyanassa said,

    November 15, 2008 @ 8:30 pm

    I feel bad, because I’m only driven to comment when I hate the story – but I hated this story. I think the LOTR world is fair game, but this story was heavy-handed, boring, and trite, without plot except Racism Bad, mmmkay? Tolkien certainly had his problems with race, but this wasn’t an especially enlightening or entertaining way to explore them. HIGHLY anvilicious.

  15. 15

    Dave (aka Nev the Deranged) said,

    November 16, 2008 @ 4:10 pm

    Frank Key was the right narrator for this story. He isn’t for every story, but for the recent one’s he’s done (this and Grand Guignol) he was well suited and well chosen by the editorship.

    The story was amusing, and it was fun seeing Tolkien’s well-worn world turned upside down in a new way, far more interesting than most of the countless pastiches that have drawn from it over the years.

    If it had been the original Bilbo (Baggins) himself, I might have taken issue with the “perversion” of Tolkien’s characters, but this was clearly set in a later time with different characters- although for a moment I thought the wizard was going to be an irate Gandalf.

    The nitpicky geek in me wants to mention that, at least as far as I recall, there were a finite number of wizards in Middle Earth, who were not humans who learned magic, but rather Istari, angelic beings who had taken human form in order to help guide the fate of Middle Earth. More diligent Tolkien enthusiasts can correct me if I’m mistaken about that.

    All in all, a good story, well read. Looking forward to the next one.

  16. 16

    Blaine Boy said,

    November 17, 2008 @ 10:03 pm

    Well, my comment is now completely redundant, but what the hell: Anyone else think that maybe Mr. Duncan is trying to suggest something? If only he could be a little bit more direct with his message. 😛 Okay, so it was a bit direct, but I think it was appropriate especially for this day and age and all that jazz. “Anvillicious.” Sounds like a new type of word to describe a food that is nutritious, delicious, and contains all your daily required iron. :p I thought it was a great story, but it’s one of those stories where you hear it once (cause that’s as many times as you need to read it to get the message) and you say “Okay, that’s enough of that. Let’s read something zany and funky and weird and fun.” Or at least, that’s what *I* say to myself.

    Keep ’em coming.

    Sincerely yours,
    The Blaine Boy

  17. 17

    Ogion The Ski-napper said,

    December 1, 2008 @ 4:30 am

    What a pointless story. “Let’s create a completely one-dimensional, hateful, bigoted, corrupt demagogue and then write a story about how terrible a person he is.”

  18. 18

    The Fix | From the Podosphere: November 2008 said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 9:32 pm

    […] first of PodCastle’s stories for November is Andy Duncan’s “Senator Bilbo.” Within a setting remarkably like Tolkien’s Shire, an overblown, self-aggrandizing local […]

  19. 19

    Geeks Guide to the Galaxy interviews JFB said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 10:29 am

    […] Lord of the Rings, sympathetic monsters and Senator Bilbo (Podcastle Episode 32, featuring Senator Bilbo by Andy […]

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