Welcome to this months “Getting to know you” Q&A, this month we’re talking to our wonderful “Lady of the Spies”, and TORn Founder Tehanu.
Kelvarhin: What is it like being the only female founder? Even Hogwarts had two female founders… 😉
Tehanu: That’s a good question actually. I think diversity was one of TORN’s strengths, right from the start. People forget how new the Internet was in 1999, for anyone other than technophiles and people whose jobs involved computers anyway. So Net culture up until then had always been overwhelmingly young and male. We started TORN just as the Net was turning into something that could include a much wider range of interests and people and I like to feel that our diversity was part of our success. I was a woman, I worked in the arts, and I was at least ten years older than most of the typical computer jocks behind the sudden proliferation of websites. And I was not from the US. So in many ways, I could bring a different perspective and push for things that other LOTR websites might have overlooked. Three or four LOTR websites sprang into existence within weeks of ours, and we were all determined to be the best LOTR film news source on the Net. The possibilities were endless, but we had a point of difference from our competitors right from the start.
I had dated computer science guys and knew the culture a little bit, so the no-holds-barred way they fought things out and made decisions (over IRC chat, back then) wasn’t a complete surprise to me. It is bloody refreshing to argue things out with that kind of directness that cuts to the point and calls a spade a spade and then moves on without hard feelings.
Kelvarhin: I’d love to know how it felt, back in those very first days of spying out locations. What were your expectations for the films, when things were just getting going?
Tehanu: I didn’t really have expectations. I went into it as a big adventure that never failed to surprise me in the way things grew and grew. The website grew, our connectivity with a larger audience and with the media grew, and we were constantly amazed by the new possibilities that opened up – by the kind of community we could become.
Kelvarhin: Were you already familiar with PJ’s work, and did this make you nervous or hopeful?
Tehanu: Hopeful. There was a sense of intelligence and integrity to the man and his work.
Kelvarhin: Could you ever have imagined that Middle-earth and New Zealand would become closely linked?
Tehanu: I knew they would, yes. Occasionally people would send us pictures of landscapes in their part of the world and say ‘why didn’t they film here instead?’ And I’d usually look at the photo and think “because it doesn’t touch what we have here’.
Kelvarhin: Which race in Middle-earth do you most associate yourself with?
Tehanu: The Elves maybe. I tend to take the long view about things. I don’t look like one though.
Kelvarhin: What was it like being in the thick of LOTR fever?
Tehanu: See above. The funniest thing was that after a year or two, my online persona had this weird kind of fame. People I knew in real life were largely unaware of it, and it’s not as though anyone would stop me in the street and ask if I were Tehanu. (Though some people –security guards and journalists whose business it is to know these things, DID stop me in all kinds of remote places when I was looking for film locations, and they did know who I was). I remember my friends and family being shocked that I would get mail from people who didn’t know me.
Kelvarhin: Were you excited to see ROTK win all the awards it did?
Tehanu: Absolutely, and more than that, thrilled that LOTR set a new, much higher benchmark for fantasy films. My only quibble is that the great acting should have been recognised as well.
Kelvarhin: What was your favourite cartoon to watch when you were a youngster? Do you still watch it?
Tehanu: No, nothing really. We didn’t have TV much, or if we did, it never got turned on before the evening. What cartoons I did see bothered me because of all the frantic movement and random violence. It might be a slightly Aspergers thing, I don’t know.
Kelvarhin: Do you have your restraining order mounted and hanging on the wall?
Tehanu: No. I wish I did! But I don’t tend to collect or keep much of anything, and I didn’t foresee what a turning point it would represent.
Kelvarhin: Are you ready for TORn’s 15th TORniversary this month?
Tehanu: Thanks for the reminder! Increasingly that time seems like a different world, a different person. A time when I had the time and freedom to think and dream and do almost anything I wanted. Now I have a somewhat challenging five year old and life is very much lived day by day or even moment to moment.
Kelvarhin: You have been gifted a 30 second phone call with Tolkien, what would you say?
Tehanu: I’d be tongue-tied. I imagine talking to Tolkien would take more time than that, rather like talking to an Ent. You’d still be going through the social pleasantries and trying to find a way past the English reserve when the phone cut out. And just blurting out ‘hey I love your work’ would probably seem weird and inappropriate to him.
Kelvarhin: Who is your favourite Hobbit, Bilbo or Frodo?
Tehanu: At the moment, Bilbo. I wonder if that’s been coloured by Martin Freeman’s wonderful interpretation of him.
Kelvarhin: If you could give your 15 years younger self advice (just as TORn went live) what would it be and why?
Tehanu: Hold on, it’s going to be quite a ride!
Kelvarhin: How much of an impact would you say Middle-earth has made on your life?
Tehanu: Huge. The books are ones I went back to again and again, and at different stages of my life, they spoke to me in different ways. In the end, they brought me back to the world of books and writing, which has been a second career for me. I met my husband through TORN too.
Kelvarhin: What kind of music do you like?
Tehanu: Classical. I’m an orchestral musician. But also a lot of 80s stuff – The Police, B52s, Split Enz. Plus great soul and blues singers.
Kelvarhin: Garfeimao told me that she had so much fun digging sandcastles with you two years ago, so she wanted me to ask you if you’ve been able to get out and do any more castle building?
Tehanu: We go to that beach a lot. Our son loves to heap up sand and “explode” it with his imaginary blasters and lightsabres.
Kelvarhin: Do you still do any music playing, either with an orchestra or a smaller ensemble?
Tehanu: Yes, I freelance around Wellington. There’s the city orchestra, Orchestra Wellington, and the Central Band of the Royal NZ Air Force. We’ll be busy doing a lot of stuff commemorating the beginning of WW1 and the ANZAC campaign over the next year or so.
Kelvarhin: Is it true that you can tell a musician’s personality by the instrument they play?
Tehanu: Often. The instrument may also mould the personality of the player, over time.
Kelvarhin: Now that New Zealand has become famous as the home of Middle Earth, do you notice more homage being paid to Tolkien around the country compared to 1999-2000 when they first started filming, whether it be signage or billboards, street or town names( which at the time was already considerable), statues or landmarks, home decorations ..etc?
Tehanu: Yes, absolutely. It’s kind of funny – at the time nobody except us seemed to think it would be a big deal. Now everyone wants to be associated with it!
Kelvarhin: How has your life changed since you were the first fan to be served notice of trespassing to quickly being invited on set and the media attention and popularity that surrounded those events. Was the impact life changing for you or just another great story to tell the children?
Tehanu: The films, and being involved in TORN, introduced me to a world of different people including my future husband. I made so many new friends, and travelled so much, including a year in San Francisco. The films also led to being involved in the LOTR film tour company Red Carpet Tours, which has provided some life-changing experiences for our tour clients who’ve had the opportunity to come to NZ with us. My involvement in TORN led to my decision to leave the Auckland Philharmonia, where I had been a member for 14 years, to pursue a career in writing and journalism in Wellington.
It’ll be strange explaining it all to my son one day. Most kids struggle to believe that their parents had a life before they were born, and since I was 44 when he was born, I lived a LOT!
Kelvarhin: Do you miss the “old days” with Calisuri, Corvar, and Xoanon, when TORN was still in its infancy and everything was newsworthy and so exciting to all of us and it felt like anything you did reporting wise was so crucial to the site and the Tolkien fans that were glued to the front page waiting for any news on the movies?
Tehanu: Very much so, and your question sums up the exact reasons why it was such a great experience.
Part of the reason for drifting away from it in later years is because it got so big, and required skills and interests I didn’t have – a grasp of social media, for instance. In the early days, if something happened it was because we’d done something to make it happen. Nobody sent us press releases – we had to fight for every scrap of news. Or hope that it’d be leaked to us. We were in close contact over everything that we did, and everything seemed very personal. Having said that, I just love the calibre of the people that have stepped in to form the TORN team and given it their knowledge and time.
Having worked in news and PR now, I’m less willing to do it in my spare time – though of course there are lots of other areas of TORN that require oversight. But breaking headlines and the front page were my first love. And I had a period of being closely involved in Barliman’s chat, from the day it opened. But a lot of familiar names moved on, and so I did too.
I’m glad the TORN community has stayed so strong and vital. It’s a great thing to have been involved with.
I’d like to say a very big thank you to Tehanu for chatting with us this month, it’s always lovely to talk to you.
As always a big thank you to all our message board regulars, DanielLB, RangerLady23, Ataahua, Ziggy Stardust and grammaboodawg, and Staffers, Elessar, Garfeimao, Thorongil and greendragon for our questions this month.
Till next time from TORn’s resident Tiger.