Welcome to The Great Hall of Poets, our regular monthly feature showcasing the talent of Middle-earth fans. Each month we will feature a small selection of the poems submitted, but we hope you will read all of the poems that we have received here in our Great Hall of Poets.
So come and join us by the hearth and enjoy!
If you have a Tolkien/Middle-earth inspired poem you’d like to share, then send it to firstname.lastname@example.org One poem per person may be submitted each month. Please make sure to proofread your work before sending it in. TheOneRing.net is not responsible for poems posting with spelling or grammatical errors.
The Whispered Doom
by David McG.
Barely audible over the silence of reason.
The words, they slithered in.
Finding residence in the core of her being they settled to grow and spread.
Choking vines entwined around memory and spirit.
At the Hill of Spies she was spied.
The dragon smiled as only one of his kind could.
No joy or humour was there in that maw of death.
Just malice and wicked intent for a revenge served hotter than his fiery breath.
He knew of her, knew of her kin and the fate they all would bear.
Leaving her to a foretold fate to fall.
Who she was and from whence she came the whispered doom said naught.
Til panic driven, naked and alone she was lost and forsaken.
No longer mourning, she would become a maiden of tears.
Found though she was, by the kin she knew not.
Though master of doom, by doom to be mastered.
The whispered spell set her downfall in motion.
By cruel fate or malicious, predetermined design the trap was set.
Ensnaring two to the curse of their father.
No escape until the whisper became word.
Encircling Spiralling Constricting The whispered doom fulfilled.
~~ * ~~
Wine on the Chesapeake Bay
by: Alexander R
I stood there thinking, at the bar,
And wondered why the We, so far,
Had scattered, half an Earth away,
Were then just now? I might just stay.
Colonialism: movement, rest, In my own land, I’m but a guest
“But it is not your own Shire,’ said Gildor. ‘Others dwelt here before hobbits were; and others will dwell here again when hobbits are no more.” John Ronald Reul Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
This special edition looks at J.R.R. Tolkien’s history, creativity and his influence on current works in the fantasy genre.
This edition also includes articles on the biopic “Tolkien” in theatres now, and Amazon’s television series in a stunning, high-quality, glossy 100-page issue filled with full-page photos. Another wonderful collectible by Newsweek in its 3rd Tolkien Special Editions on newsstands and store check-out lanes until June 29, 2019. [Topix Media Specials]
At best, I am a casual fan of the works of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. In the 1980s, I experienced the same tween discovery of Tolkien’s books that remains a touchstone for many fans. On a long Greyhound trip from Baltimore to Colonial Williamsburg with my father, I read Fellowship of the Ring; I sat on the edge of my bus seat in the Mines of Moria, mourned Gandalf’s demise and the shattering of the Fellowship. With a hunger worthy of Gollum, I devoured the rest of the trilogy, followed by The Hobbit. And when I clapped shut my Ballantine Books paperbacks; I felt the real sense of loss of close friends. I did not want Middle-earth, Sam and Frodo and all the rest to go away.
My love for Tolkien remained more emotional than intellectual. I lamely thumbed through the Appendices, but could not absorb Tolkien’s encyclopedic worldbuilding. I didn’t have the patience for The Silmarillion, never learned Elvish, and if I’m brutally honest, impatiently skipped over most of Tolkien’s embedded poems for halting the plot. Like millions of other fans, I allowed Peter Jackson’s movies to colonize my mind’s eye of Tolkien’s characters. But outside of that; no Ralph Bakshi, no Rankin and Bass, no Leonard Nimoy crooning, “Bilbo – Bilbo Baggins, bravest little hobbit of them all.” As a sometimes fan, I could take Tolkien or leave him.
And yet, Finnish Director Dome Karukoski’s Tolkien forges a singular movie alchemy of its own. Like a treetop wizard lighting pinecones to chuck at wargs, Karukoski ignites the passion and fun of that childhood first read of Tolkien’s most famous works. This movie is a “How-Done-It,” explaining the many real life experiences and influences that lead Tolkien to put ink to paper. Even in the face of the massive loss of childhood chums in World War I, the most cathartic moment of the movie is Tolkien writing simply, “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.” This openly brought me to tears, and reminded me of the childlike, pure emotion of first falling in love with Middle-earth. Rekindling that love alone is reason enough to see this movie. And yet there’s so much more, thematically.
We follow a young Tolkien through the blood and the mud of the Battle of the Somme, trailed by a faithful British Private as an analogue for Samwise Gamgee. Amidst the barbed wire and the mustard gas and flamethrowers of trench warfare, Tolkien glimpses dragons and Balrogs and Ringwraiths, and conjures the imagery that will form the basis of his mythological evil. This is the realm of machinery run amok to commit mass slaughter.
But we also see a younger Tolkien form a literary club and close friendship of four with his fellow students. This fellowship lasts through college at Oxford and Cambridge and is shattered in the War to End All Wars. Karukoski walks us through the dual tensions of kinship and human decency versus man’s implacable killing technology that shaped so much of Tolkien’s worldview. And the movie deserves praise for its depiction of the strong women in Tolkien’s life, including his mother, Mabel.
Rarely has a movie explored the meaning and function of language in such a sensitive and romantic light. Words and their inherent magic are front and center as Tolkien invents entire languages and studies to be a philologist. Both Tolkien’s future wife Edith Mary Bratt, and his Gothic Professor Joseph Wright help young Ronald explore language in thought-provoking ways.
Actor Nicholas Hoult gives a nuanced performance of a sensitive and romantic artist. Lily Collins is exceptional as Edith. Other standout performances include Colm Meaney as a stern-yet-loving Father Francis, and Derek Jacobi as our Gandalf stand-in, Professor Wright.
Yes, the movie takes dramatic license with Tolkien’s timeline, and downplays his devout Catholicism. This remains a straight forward, satisfying biopic packed with ideas and themes as rich as Tolkien’s vision. Just like Bohemian Rapsody did (and no doubt Rocket Man will, in a few weeks), this is a largely sympathetic portrait of a rock star; in this case a literary one in Tolkien. And even more fun – for a brief shining moment – is reentering The Shire, and remembering what it is to be a kid again.
Appropriately, there are a lot of complex emotions and thoughts to unpack after watching the latest film to tackle Middle-earth, TOLKIEN.
Let’s get this out of the way: If you have more than a passing interest in J.R.R. Tolkien or his works, you should view the film. You should view it in theaters and you should view it without knowing too much of what is going to unfold — and I will do my best to withhold spoilers, but some are inevitable if I am going to offer fair commentary on the film.
Let’s also get this out of the way: The next person who says “It’s not a documentary,” to me or anyone else with criticisms of the film’s portrayal of Tolkien’s life can go straight to Angband. This quip attempts to dismiss completely valid, rational views of the film, most often the assumed position that someone is about to say film isn’t accurate. Feel free to disagree with criticism, but don’t insult the discussion with a patronizing deflection or insinuate that there were two choices: either documentary accuracy or giving up all hope of accuracy and accepting anything.
Watching TOLKIEN was a powerful emotional experience. As J.R.R. has done for so many, he has profoundly influenced my own life. His words touch us on a deep level. His works laid the foundation of so much else that came after, most definitely including the biggest fantasy property on the block at the moment, GAME OF THRONES on HBO, that is something of a reply to Tolkien from George R.R. Martin. STAR WARS would certainly not exist as we know it without Tolkien. Harry Potter, Dungeons & Dragons and so much else grew from the field he plowed. The Professor is a giant that looms above us all.
So when Nicholas Hoult and Harry Gilby combine to portray Tolkien as a child and as a young man, it was unexpectedly moving; just the simple act of putting Tolkien on screen was powerful. It is a reminder that the nearly mythical professor was scared, lonely, insecure, sad, frustrated, desperate, drunk, charming, combative and impulsive.
Not only does Tolkien live before our eyes but his best mates from his young years, the boys essential to him during his formative era, all live and walk and breathe before our very eyes. In fact the film makes all of them immortal in a way, a reality that I imagine would have tickled Tollers.
And all of this is entertaining and beautiful but …
Watching TOLKIEN was a frustrating, and in some moments, an agonizing experience and I don’t mean in the midst of the drama lost in the story and characters but rather outside the drama and about the drama. And yes, I do get it. Screenwriting is hard. Putting a powerful, emotionally relevant story on screen is hard. The story of J.R.R. Tolkien is hard. Story telling about an period with less data about the man is hard.
But Tolkien was a real life person. Some living now, knew him then, and he left behind letters and notes, video, audio recordings and war and school records. So when the film’s writers David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford, and director Dome Karukoski, chose to tell the story in a way that ignores those records and turns instead to fantasy, it is troubling at the least, distracting and frustrating.
SPOILER but (seriously, film spoiler ahead) the film chooses to depict Tolkien going for something of a walk in the midst of fierce fighting during the Battle of the Somme. He is obsessed, if not crazed, with the idea of finding his friend.
In reality 2nd Lt. Tolkien didn’t abandon his fellow soldiers and instead fulfilled his duty as a signaler for a battalion of infantry, sending instructions and trying to help communication in the chaos of fighting and dying across no man’s land.
Soon after he contracted trench fever — typically via lice — and was taken off the front. One of the most common symptoms of the ailment is leg pain — not quite the disease to inspire tench walking.
This isn’t a small shift in a man’s history, this is a massive, unneeded change about important characterization in the man and developments in the myth he created. There was already drama, conflict and characterization present in the actual history. If only the filmmakers had trusted the story of J.R.R. Tolkien instead of needing to make a fantasy story to replace it.
The film suggests Tolkien had a sort of fever dream during this walk and had visions of his future stories. Some will shrug this off, and he did start writing as he was away from the front, but a hallucinating Tolkien instead of a crafting Tolkien, especially when there was a set-up for it, is less effective. Yes, this can all be viewed as metaphorical, but it can also be viewed as a bad trip that became a good story.
Those aren’t the only inaccuracies; we are treated to a wildly different start of some important writing, that is definitely not an improvement (and from a filmmaking only viewpoint, it feels glued on at the end.) But it also avoids the opportunity to depict The Professor being the a professor. We are robbed of a very on-the-record Tolkien moment of inspiration that changed everything, only to have it replaced by a weakened moment, of problematic motivation.
I will resist the temptation, for spoiler’s sake, to say more and this essay isn’t the place to create a checklist of wrong history, but suffice it to say, some will.
To say that another way, just as big of a problem as being inaccurate about a real person’s story is that the inaccuracies — or straight up fantasy — robs us of getting to know the man, and the man is pretty interesting. The man didn’t need embellishing. And to be clear, I am not objecting to filling in some gaps and I credit the movie for doing that effectively in spots.
I object, as others will, to replacing the known record with storytelling fancy.
Others may legitimately raise concerns about structure or pacing, and while that isn’t something to be ignored, for me, those are forgivable.
None of this is to say there isn’t a fine story with a beautiful love-story in it. There is definitely that. And some dose of fancy or manufacturing of details is certainly inevitable and understandable. But manufacturing important things that contradict what is known is frustrating.
There is heart and abundant beauty present to be sure. In fact, there is a beautiful film here for you to catch in theaters, but it is too often a fantasy film about a real person as much as it is the story of that person.
Those knowing little about Tolkien will walk away “educated” and will perhaps find some emotional connection. Hopefully they will wish to learn more and pick up one of several great books about the man, which the director, a fan, has undoubtedly read. But this is TORn, not a collective that knows little about Tolkien.
Karukoski directed something beautiful. The acting is excellent. The lighting and shooting is beautiful. The music is wonderful. The tone is occasionally modern for a period piece but all of that is effective and emotional and there is much to praise.
But we aren’t going to get some other Tolkien biography anytime soon — this is it. We are rewarded with beauty and with pieces of Tokien and we are frustrated by the fantasy depiction of a man — and a story — that deserved greater purposeful fidelity.
The party continues! We’re still celebrating 20 years of TheOneRing.net (check out the message boards for all the fun and games), and yesterday we received another lovely video message. This comes all the way from New Zealand; check out what Richard Taylor had to say. (You may want to be sitting down before you watch this one…) Thanks so much, Richard!
I have a confession to make. I’ve become a relatively bitter Tolkien fan in the past 20+ years. Since founding TheOneRing.net with Corvar, Tehanu and Xoanon, I’ve gone through a devolution of my own personal fandom, that was neither apparent at the time, nor welcomed as a result. You see, when we started, so many ages ago, I had read The Lord of the Rings religiously every year since age 13. Every single year. It was a welcome escape from the challenges of 13-year-old-boy-dom. After all, I was a pretty damn awkward kid. I looked forward to the summer when I’d pore through the pages of Tolkien’s master work, and be whisked away on a journey in which I felt I was passionately participating.
When the idea of TheOneRing.net came to fruition, I was able to get that same satisfaction through simply enjoying the dawning of the internet age with other Tolkien fans online. I consumed everything and anything that was shared, written, argued, engaged, etc. That become my cup of Tolkien consumption for many years, lasting through the end of The Return of the One Party. Yes, through those years, I did not read a word of Tolkien – but the thriving community of TheOneRing.net kept me more than fulfilled.
Then came the in-between years – we can call them the dark times – that time when our personal interests fall to the side as we build up our family and professional lives. (Don’t get me wrong, those are great things on a personal level, but for my Tolkien fandom, that time was pretty dark.) I didn’t read a word of Tolkien, and I didn’t consume the output of the community that had sustained me for so many years. The significance of Tolkien in my life took a back seat.
Along came the excitement and rush of The Hobbit films! A return to the grandeur of the early 2000s, a thriving community engaged with a new vision…or was it really? The reality for many of us old-timers (BTW – I’m not ‘THAT’ old), was that the venture through The Hobbit films felt a bit more like Thorin’s struggles (*cough* gold fever) than true excitement. For me – and maybe not for you – it felt forced … non-organic. The community still thrived, however, and a whole new generation of Tolkien fandom was born.
But for me … I was done. Well, obviously not ‘done’ done. But I had reached my limit. I hadn’t read a word of Tolkien for years … decades … and I saw too much behind the curtain of the ‘business’ of Hollywood gleefully to ignore the obvious truths that evade most. (We won’t go into those here – let’s just say, behind the curtain is pretty ugly.)
Then comes the news of a biopic of Tolkien. *roll eyes* This bitter Tolkien fan immediately thinks, ‘Oh great. How are they going to diminish the legacy of one of the greatest authors and minds of all time? Will they make him out to be a racist? A religious zealot? Pull out some other horrific tidbit of information that could attempt to ruin a legacy?’ Yea, bitter. ‘What modern sensibility will we crucify Tolkien with today?’
Pretty sure that is as bitter as bitter gets. (Was anyone else there with me?)
When I was offered an opportunity to see Tolkien at the Montclair Film Festival in Montclair, NJ last night, I was just as bitter. It was cool that I would get to go see it early, but I was pretty well set for something annoying. Yes, a few other staff had already seen it and set praises upon it, but this bitter old fan chalked that up to youthful enthusiasm for community relevance. (Sorry folks, but that’s the truth!)
What I saw on the screen last night was quite unexpected. It was inspiring, tearful, joyful and engaging. It was exquisitely directed, and skillfully acted.
What I saw on the screen was a story I hadn’t known. It was obviously not just a reporting of Tolkien’s life; no, this was a unique interpretation of a famous life, pieced together from a relatively undocumented time. This is something that engaged this bitter fan from the first scene of WWI hell, to a realistic conclusion well before Tolkien’s published fame.
This is NOT a geek film. This is NOT a greedy attempt to piggy back on the success of LOTR, Hobbit or other fantasy films. This is a wonderful work of cinema that not only fully re-charged my interest in learning more about the one who started it all, but also my interest in re-reading the books.
Today, I made sure that The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit books are front and center on my Kindle app. Guess what I’ll be reading later?
Congratulations to director Dome Karukoski (My new hero?) on an amazing film, worthy of the name of ‘Tolkien.’
It’s an exciting week for fans of the Professor! The biopic TOLKIEN will be released on May 10th, with a Fathom Event live screening followed by a Q&A lead by Stephen Colbert tonight, and a World Premiere Live Stream tomorrow night! We here at TORn are very excited for this movie; those staffers who have already seen it have loved it, as you’ll know from Quickbeam’s review. Last week, two staffers were lucky enough to join director Dome Karukoski in New York. ImladrisRose wrote this fascinating article about the visit; read on to find out more about the inspiration behind TOLKIEN.
On May 3rd, TheOneRing.Net was granted access to an exclusive press event with acclaimed Finnish Director, Dome Karukoski, as a part of the press tour for his upcoming film Tolkien. The press event was covered by TORn Staffer Ashlee Rose Scott (ImladrisRose) and TORn Original Staff Contributor John Tedeschi (Thorongil).
Fox Searchlight has this to say about the film: “TOLKIEN explores the formative years of the renowned author’s life as he finds friendship, courage and inspiration among a fellow group of writers and artists at school. Their brotherhood strengthens as they grow up and weather love and loss together, including Tolkien’s tumultuous courtship of his beloved Edith Bratt, until the outbreak of the First World War which threatens to tear their fellowship apart. All of these experiences would later inspire Tolkien to write his famous Middle-earth novels.”
Our morning with Dome began with a private tour of “Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth” at the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan. The show was originally conceived and created in Oxford, where they hold the majority of the Tolkien archive. The Oxford exhibit had about 230 pieces, while the New York one has 115. There are a few pieces from private collections that were not on display at the Oxford location. As the museum’s Chief Curator, John McQuillen, was giving the tour, Dome was soaking up every aspect of the exhibit, as were we.
McQuillen would explain the back story of each piece on display and Dome would interject tidbits from his journey through Middle-earth and the production of Tolkien.
Floor to ceiling enlargements of some of Tolkien’s watercolors were breathtaking, simply mesmerizing. I could have curled up in a chair and stared at them for hours. Dome explained while standing beneath Tolkien’s illustration ‘Eeriness’, “In the film, our costume designer had the idea to use the color palettes of some of Tolkien’s watercolors to design Edith’s dresses. She would have the idea for the look of the gown, and then pull the colors together based on some of Tolkien’s paintings. For example, Lily wore a colored dress inspired by the rooftops of Hobbiton.”
That type of attention to detail was instrumental for the filmmaker to pull Tolkien’s world and “visions” together. Dome went on to say, “Lord of the Rings came much later into his mind, which is striking because usually that’s the first thing that people read. With our film, we really focused on the elements of how he was forming his writings at that [early] time in his life. At that time, he was building glimpses of The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. The film depicts more of his imagination depicting those works, instead of The Lord of the Rings.”
The charts and timelines written in Tolkien’s handwriting, of where every character in a story was on any given day, were an awe inspiring representation of the enormous care that the Professor placed in getting everything in his world, in his Middle–earth, perfect. There was a ledger showing how many hours Tolkien worked and how many kisses he was owed by his love, Edith Bratt. Tolkien was easily distracted in his college years: by rugby, by theatre, by friends, by Edith.
“What a surprise,” Dome chuckled at McQuillen’s description of Tolkien’s distractedness. “Tolkien turned distraction into triumph.” The ledger also showed an early version of the Tolkien monogram. “One of the things that inspired me and helped me see how he really used elements of his actual life in his mythologies was that he was bitten by a tarantula as a small boy. He could have died but he was lucky, he went home and the housemaids sucked the poison out of him.
“To me, this shows me Frodo and Shelob. He would use these small elements of his own life, not as direct inspirations, but as a jumping off point in his writing, and it had an overall influence on him.”
McQuillen explained that The Silmarillion really began when Tolkien was a young boy. He and his brother created what they called the “nonsense fairy language”, like most kids who create their own secret language; but for Tolkien, this became something very serious. It was in his undergrad years, and on the battlefields during World War I, that he started having these ideas of Middle–earth; bringing that nonsense language that he and his brother created, and turning it into what ultimately became Elvish. Tolkien wanted The Silmarillion to provide a kind of mythology for England, that he felt was lost during the Norman conquest; that’s really where Middle–earth began, as a mythological past for England.
“Tolkien’s art was very dark when he was young. In terms of my research, I would look at even the temperament to which the lines were drawn. And those early works were dark. There is a darkness and almost a lack of control, where in his later works you see there is a light to them and you can see that emotional control. The pain of his youth was apparent in his early pieces, that was my biggest takeaway.” Dome spoke of his extensive time researching the Professor, down to those details of brush or pencil stroke style.
Following the hour long tour of the exhibit, we went to the Langham Hotel, where we had breakfast, followed by a round table discussion. Dome was extremely gracious with his time and was chatting with us before, during and after all of the events of the day. His love of Tolkien’s work and the deep respect he has for the Professor is apparent in the way he speaks about him. He is of course a filmmaker, and so made choices that he believed would do the film the most justice, but always while still being true to the spirit of Tolkien himself.
One of the biggest topics of the group discussion was the representation of a strong female character (“Edith”) in the film, and the other female characters in Tolkien’s works. Karukoski had this to say:
“Almost all of his stories and his letters, he barely talks about his mother, which is understandable with her loss being such a tragic experience for him. He also doesn’t really talk much about Edith other than a very nice letter after her death, to his son, referring to Edith as his Luthien. So we talked a lot about how do we have layers to Edith, when we don’t know that much about her. How do we have this female character layered and not just as a supporting character, since we don’t know those actual layers that made her who she would have been. What was striking about our research was how much of a partner she was; she wasn’t just a housewife. I think that they worked a lot together. I think between their bond as orphans, and her being older than he, she was viewed as having an upper status towards him. which I believe influenced and carried over into his writing of strong female characters.
“If you look at the mythologies, it’s a very patriarchal era. However, you have characters such as Eowyn who kills the Witch King, which no man can do, and you have Galadriel, who is possibly the strongest of all the elven characters. From that, you can see that he viewed her (Edith) as very strong and made his female characters very strong in her likeness. He viewed Edith as the backbone of their life and family, and we took that and built upon it.”
Dome also spoke about having originally wanted to take a very different direction with this film project.
“We had a version of the script which was very historic. In all honesty, it just wasn’t emotional. You didn’t feel anything. It was more documentary–like, and just all the facts of the time. We were seeing that it just didn’t work, it didn’t resonate. So I approached it differently. How can I make it emotional? How can I make it come from him? I decided to do it as a dream. What if he’s lying in South Hampton, dreaming about the war, and having these visions . Focusing on what is the emotional feeling of the war, what is he taking from it, what is he carrying. Losing friends, not being able to save Jeffery Smith, which would have been extremely painful for him. This direction fit better in order to create that real human emotion.”
After the group discussion, we were granted one on one time with Dome to discuss his thought process, and more. Here is what ImladrisRose and Thorongil had to ask the director:
What is your favorite aspect of Tolkien’s writing? Is it the way his characters are drawn out, or the epic quality of his tales?
Hmm. What’s intriguing to me is, when I was younger it was the adventure. You were able to read his works and escape. Being bullied and feeling alone as a child, having that as an escape helped me a great deal. The older I’ve gotten, I value more the societal aspects of his writing. There is so much about humanity, and there is a lot there that is extremely intellectual about his work. Perhaps not The Hobbit as much, but even that is a tale about the power of corruption and greed if you look at Thorin Oakenshield, Smaug. In many ways it’s the human aspect of it, especially the corruption of the mind. A lot of his characters get corrupted somehow and I love that detail, that character development. They become quite dark, many of his characters and his stories too.
Some publications have reported that the Tolkien Estate has not approved your movie. (We note that they haven’t approved any Tolkien movie in the last forty years!) As an unauthorized biopic, what parts of Tolkien’s life inspired you to make the movie that you did?
“To answer first the authorization of a biopic, no other biopics are done with full authorization from the estates, because very easily you get what is called “Winner’s History”. Kind of a controlled image of the story you are trying to tell, regardless of your goal in the story and you very easily become their friends and start servicing them. They have the right to say what they want, but they haven’t seen the film, which of course you would want them to see the film and then discuss their opinions about it. But I understand that. I totally understand the emotion behind it. I think my film was done out of respect and out of total admiration and love for him (Tolkien).
That’s the first thing, It’s very liberating and intriguing for some people to see that I’ve chosen to represent his younger years, his more formative years. Just as a society, we have this image of Tolkien, you know, with C.S. Lewis and we kind of see these privileged Oxford kids, these elitist Oxford kids. You think that they come from rich families. I think you will look at Tolkien differently now. I looked at him differently. He’s actually this poor kid, coming out of very, very difficult experiences. Being orphaned at age 12 and then basically fighting to become who he is. That story for me, makes me admire him even more. He had to actually really fight and survive WWI. I think it was a really beautiful, crucial part of his life that is also very cinematic and dramatic.”
So it was Tolkien’s experience in WWI that you used as the particular lens to examine his life with. What drew you to focus particularly on that aspect of his life? In what ways do you think war made Tolkien the man and the creator that he was?
“Screen time wise it’s not actually that big. I think it’s only about fifteen screen minutes of the entire film, the war parts. But the feeling, you get a feeling from it that carries throughout the film. It wasn’t actually intentional to focus as much on the war as we did, but emotionally it’s there throughout. The emotions that he experienced are something he carried with him for quite sometime, and that you see. Emotionally it was such a heavy experience for him and I think as an audience you carry that with you. I think that’s still right. He himself said that war wasn’t an inspiration for Mordor or anything, but I think the emotional element was, even subconsciously. I approached the war scenes as a dream. He would be lying in hospital in South Hampton, in his trench fever. How would he dream the war? What was his emotional takeaway from those moments? I think his emotional take is something that we can see in his mythologies. Those emotions are in those innocent people, those innocent souls being destroyed by evil. That’s something that I can see affected him deeply.”
The explosions that we saw in the film, would you tell us more about your thought process behind those moments?
“This all derives from the same tree of ideas that no fantasy element, no idea is fully finished. It’s not yet Durin’s Bane. It’s not yet. It’s a creature of fire and shadow. And you think ‘where has he seen this before?’ In explosions, in war! So you try to pin point to the audience, where do these ideas perhaps come from? Because there are only a couple of confirmed direct inspirations, for example, the story of Beren and Luthien. To show and open up to the audience how he’s built his stories, you have to pick a few elements here and there to try to explain how his mind works. You have to try to explain how the mind of an artist works. And hopefully it will inspire those who are creating to add something to their own creations. I mean, there are favorite moments of course, like that with Morgoth, but he’s not Morgoth yet. At this point in Tolkien’s story, in his life, Morgoth has not been created. He’s there, but he’s not. The emotion is there, of a battle that is totally in vain. Perhaps somehow that is in his writings.”
Did you feel compelled to echo previous interpretations of Tolkien’s work in your storytelling; were you visually inspired by other interpretations on film, or by artists such as Alan Lee?
“No, no. I was really lucky. I read the books before the films. At the time, I was living in a rural village of about 2000 people and there was only one VHS rental! And if it wasn’t at that rental, then it didn’t exist in my life yet. Like the animated version, it took me fifteen years to see that, and that was when it came out on Finnish TV. The ideas and the visions that I had and that I showed in this movie are from what I felt, and my initial reactions to the books. How I saw Middle–earth. There are some things that I saw differently when I read the books compared to seeing the movies. For example, Mordor I saw completely differently. The Shire was similar, but that’s a pretty standard British landscape like that which Tolkien was used to. There are other places, like Mirkwood, I saw totally differently than it was shown in The Hobbit movies. But that’s the great thing about a time before the internet. You would read a book and have your own idea of what things look like. Now you can google “Elven Princess” and the internet shows you. I can’t imagine 13 year old me with the internet and an elven princess being my first crush. Before I could imagine my first crush however I wanted her to be, now the internet tells me how she is! Basically, with the film, the idea was to go back to my childhood interpretations of these worlds and these stories. And since at the time of the film, he hasn’t written anything yet, you have to take a step back and think ‘what was his first thought? what sparked this character? or this place?’ That’s what we are seeing in the film, ideas that he is still fleshing out, his drafts before there was a first draft.
One example is the Black Knight. He’s not yet the Nazgul. It’s decades before he’s going to write that. Maybe he has an idea of Riders, but it isn’t fully developed. And where did that come from? How do I show how Tolkien’s mind works? This is what we tried to do with this film.”
One of the most beautiful scenes in the film seems to be a nod to Tolkien’s early stories in The Silmarillion. How did you visually come about depicting the two trees?
“I think the love of trees is very instrumental to him. We’ve read stories and even in some of the biographies. He felt a real pain when some of the trees from his own Shire of his childhood were cut down. And he would later see that the tree was just still lying there, so it was cut down for no reason. He felt trees had a spirit of their own. We thought, how would he use the idea of trees having their own spirits and how would he form those ideas for his mythologies? Ents being shepherds in the later stories. We see in the scene at the Grand Cafe, we get a glimpse of the first ideas of the Trees of Valinor. It shows that there’s something here, there’s that spark, but he’s not finished yet. It’s the start of that idea.”
How did you get into Directing?
“I was a very poor kid. I was an outsider. I was growing without a father, who I later knew. The theme of poverty was prominent in Tolkien’s work. There were a lot of Tolkien experts who told us that he loved to work but he worked so hard and so much to avoid being poor again. He didn’t want to be a poor person again. I recognize and can relate to that. When I was young I was trying to think of jobs that would keep me from being poor. At one point we didn’t have running water so I thought I’d be a lawyer or something. Then I met my dad in my late teens and he was an actor. I began to know myself a bit better so I said I would be an actor. My mother was a journalist so that was an option too. I applied to acting school but I didn’t get in. I applied to film school and here we are.”
Are there any other writers or historical figures that you would want to make a film about?
“Perhaps not. I think it’s always difficult. As you know, there has been a little bit of Catholic backlash and it’s always a problem because it’s impossible to satisfy everyone. And people will say “Oh, but Lord of the Rings has clear religious elements”. Well okay, but he’s not writing Lord of the Rings at the time of this movie. He’s not writing it yet. This is thirty years before Lord of the Rings, and we do show the Catholic inspirations and influences in his life, like with Father Francis. But he’s not yet writing those books so we can’t have him in the church, and getting knighted for that when it hasn’t happened yet. People passionately go against everything when it’s a real life character, so I think I’m doing fiction next, and for a while! People have the rights to their opinions, but at the same time you’ve made choices to try to present the best possible film while still trying to be authentic to the person and their history by bringing forward the best emotion from that era of their life. It’s so difficult to explain to people when it’s based on a real life person because you’re trying to make the best film that you can while upholding the legacy of the individual.”
Which of Tolkien’s works is your favorite?
“The Silmarillion now as an adult has become my favorite. Unfinished Tales also. It’s changed over the years though. As a child and young adult it was Lord of the Rings. As a young boy, I was bullied a lot, and those characters became my friends. That world had a profound effect on me. I really wanted to make the books into a film but I was in film school at the time that Peter Jackson was working on it. Have a bit of envy of him towards that. I think he did a really great adaptation of the books, but I probably would have found a way to have Tom Bombadil in it! During my art school years my favorite was Leaf by Niggle. It’s basically about artistic anxiety which everyone has in art school, so it really resonated with me at that time. And then there was a fun time where I just really enjoyed The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.”
Well, who is Tom Bombadil?
“In my mind, he can’t be Arda himself. Tolkien himself said that in every mythology there has to be some mystery. For him, Tom Bombadil was that mystery. I think he’s the spirit of the forest. You could think that he’s a Bard because of the singing. For me, he’s the spirit of the forest. And who does he marry? The daughter of the river. I don’t think he’s one of the Valar because he’d have to be a different form of them. I don’t know. Perhaps the Professor deliberately left it that way so that no one could figure it out. He’d probably be amused by this conversation.”
He would probably love hearing peoples theories!
“Definitely. He’s probably laughing at us right now!”
That is an encouraging thought…
Meet-up with fellow fans to celebrate the releases of this film! Get the full details on tickets and an exclusive giveaway! [Click here]
Tolkien just opened in the UK this past Friday, and will be opening up nationwide here in the US on May 10. You can read Quickbeam’s review here, or remain completely spoiler free, as you see fit. Suffice it to say Tolkien is a beautifully made film, from the acting, music score and gorgeous settings.
Back in the day, when the LOTR films were coming out, TORn rolled out the idea of Line Parties, a way for fans to meet and interact while standing in line for the movies. Of course, this was long before theaters moved to reserved seating, which has taken some of the fun energy out of the theater going experience. But it doesn’t have to be that way, we all know that movies are better with friends, new and old. So, bring your Fellowship, or make a new Fellowship, and plan to attend opening weekend of Tolkien with fellow fans.
We have partnered up with Legion M, the first fan-owned entertainment company, to host fan Meetups/Line Parties/Moots on opening weekend of Tolkien. You can sign up to attend an existing Meetup here, and if there is none near you, register to host your own. If you decide to host a Meetup, you will need to fill out the form and wait for a Legion M admin to activate your event. Once activated, you will be able to share the link and encourage all of your friends and family to attend. The Meetups with at least 8 attendees RSVPed will earn collectible pins, but you will need to move quickly in order for those to arrive in time for the film screening. Of course, existing Meetups may have already qualified, so do check your area within a good 15-20 mile radius first.
One other enticement is that One Meetup will win a special prize of free movie tickets, with the added bonus of one Meetup leader and one Attendee earning a trip to a Legion M premiere at a city to be determined by Legion M, a 2 night hotel stay and a cash prize towards airfare. Please see the One Meetup to Rule them All contest page for details on this.
Somehow it feels like I’ve been waiting all my life for this film. Over the past 40 years we’ve been treated to unique adaptions of LOTR and THE HOBBIT (live action and animated) to varying degrees of success, yet we have never gotten such a cinematic glimpse into the man himself who created such mythic realms where Elves and Wizards wander. Now acclaimed Finnish director Dome Karukoski (pronounced “doh-MAY”) has taken his hand to his first English-language film and I’m honestly thrilled with the results (yet also left wanting some more, please, sir).
TOLKIEN is a deeply felt, if not complete, portrait of the author I most admire in the world. Don’t fret: there is nothing shoddy, cheap or “fast and loose” with the way this story is told. Against any such fears, this project was certainly made with care. The writing especially, and the casting, music, and cinematography are all first-rate. It satisfies much curiosity for the casual Ringer fan: Karukoski gently pulls back the curtain of history and brings us the first half of Ronald Tolkien’s life, allowing us to feel connected to this person in a whole new way, simply by paying witness. Here is how an orphaned, penniless child was forced to cope and grow up fast, being inspired by many things and people, not knowing he would become the most beloved author of the 20th century.
If your main concern is that the Tolkien Estate did not authorize or participate in this new film, keep in mind they did not approve nor involve themselves in ANY other film adaption of Tolkien’s works over the past 40 years. When Professor Tolkien was alive he made a deal to sell the rights for LOTR and THE HOBBIT for adaptation; wanting to help guarnatee his children a proper education and secure his family’s future. Since that time, because of that previous deal, the Tolkien Estate has not, strictly speaking, approved any of these adaptions we all know. Not the early Rankin/Bass THE HOBBIT that won the Peabody Award – and not the massive Peter Jackson films that won so much acclaim and so many Oscars. This has always been de rigueur for them. It is quite normal for the Estate to say: “We’re not involved here” just to keep the confusion down. Unfortunately many news outlets tried to create scandal and click-bait to color the conversation poorly and to that I say caveat emptor – Buyer Beware. I refer you to my editorial here for more details.
Those movies you love watching over and over? Not approved. All of Howard Shore’s gorgeous music that’s on your playlist? Not approved. Yet it is safe to say millions upon millions of us pop consumers love that stuff with full-throated appreciation and have used them to bring others into our Ringers community. We encourage our friends to read more Tolkien because they liked those films. I just want to knock that irony out of the way when I hear fans say “I’m not going to see the new TOLKIEN biopic because the family dissed it so hard!” Well, come on. It ain’t like that, folks. This gorgeous new film is an opportunity to bring new Ringers closer to knowing the father of our fandom, and to seek further reading (and please, support your local library… seriously).
Speaking of: in my early 20’s when I read Carpenter’s “Tolkien: A Biography” I sought to absorb myself in the man’s life and learn all that I could. It was an interesting read but to a certain extent, sometimes, it left me a little dry. After all, Tolkien’s later life of quiet academia, sometimes filled with great spurts of creativity and many publishing woes, is not one of operatic “sturm and drang” or stunning reversals of fortune like the characters in his stories. This new film does not take us into the era where LOTR was created and does not cover his incredible scholarship. The big payoff here is the sense of immediacy and drama that comes to life. Thanks to a deftly written screenplay by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford and fantastic performances from the cast, this film has an abundance of flavor, color, and incredibly well-drawn personalities at play.
We start with the unrestrained energy of a lad just moved from South Africa to the green glory of Sarehole Mill, a smart choice to explore when the filmmakers cannot talk about all his later works. Mabel Tolkien was a woman who had to manage two boys without their Father, and she home-schooled Hilary and John Ronald in all the classical languages and learning they would need. Her apperance (played by the lovely Laura Donnelly) is brief but SO very impactful. That her children were brilliant is a testament to her memory. Their new guardian is played by one of my all-time favorite Star Trek actors Colm Meaney, as Father Francis Morgan, who helped mentor Mabel in Catholicism before her untimely death and then stepped in to watch over her sons and make sure they found the best further education at King Edward’s School.
It is at King Edwards where more magic happens for Ronald – where a snooty schoolmaster barely recognizes the talent that just arrived in his classroom – and I’ll never forget the scene where Ronald “shows his quality.” Going from lonely and isolated to finally meeting up with the lads who embraced him by nicknaming him “Tollers” is such a treat.
The casting choices in this film are most excellent. The boys of the T.C.B.S are played by two sets of actors, the younger versions and then fast-forward to a few years older. Patrick Gibson (THE TUDORS, THE OA), Anthony Boyle (HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD), and Tom Glynn-Carney (DUNKIRK), are incredibly charming and fun to watch in the roles of Robert Gilson, Geoffrey B. Smith, and Christopher Wiseman, respectively. Indeed, the spirit of “Harry Potter” comaraderie is in the room as they drink tea and talk about the power of art to change the world while at Barrow’s Stores (what Tolkien would later call Barrovian since he was so smart with linguistic structure). So the Tea Club Barrovian Society is formed and even stronger bonds of trust and love come to young Ronald at at time when he had lost everything. Karukoski accomplishes so much humor here he earns the goodwill of his audience to a great degree, making the darkness of the impending World War even more compelling.
One day while quietly folding sheets with his brother, Tolkien hears soft piano music coming from downstairs where they’ve been kindly offered boarding by a certain Mrs. Faulkner, and wandering down to see who it is we discover the first impression of Edith Bratt, another orphan staying in the home, yet three years older than Tolkien, and unaware of the destiny to come.
The romance between Ronald and Edith blooms and time moves forward with older actors Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins playing the leads. They have such chemistry together it sinks deep into your heart. The scene feautred in the main trailer; where the two are at an upscale cafe talking about his invented langauge (something he is quite sheepish about) yet encouraged by his thoughtfulness, Edith asks, “Tell me a story, in any language you want,” will be a scene forever talked about by Ringer fans. Hoult is able to show with such nuance how Tolkien’s mind would work, finding the sense and music and meaning of a word and crafting something of a story from it is brilliantly written and handled by the actors. It’s everything I’ve wanted to see from Tolkien’s life – the combination of erudite linguistics and throwing sugar cubes at people suddenly becomes so romantic….
The film employs the framing device of the Battle of the Somme, where Tolkien served on the front from July to October 1916 as a Battalion Signaling Officer with the Lancashire Fusiliers. Abundant imagery from the Great War has appeared in recent cinema; notably in Patty Jenkin’s excellent WONDER WOMAN and Peter Jackson’s stunningly restored docu THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD. Here Karukoski keenly draws out Ronald’s suffering from trench fever, struggling through gas attacks, gunfire and death to deliver a message to a dear friend. His mind strays in and out – seeing feverish images and shadows. Kudos to the production team and art department for adding to this legacy of affecting war imagery.
My favorite scenes involve the deliciously insightful Professor Wright, professor of Comparitive Philology (the post at Oxford that Tolkien would later hold) played by the legendary Sir Derek Jacobi. Thomas Hardy and Virginia Woolf were great admirers of Wright, as was Tokien, who was a great influence on him. Cannot get enough of Sir Derek’s energy! He steals the show just as Dame Judy Dench did in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE.
Top marks to the score by Thomas Newman for being deft and unobtrusive at all the right times. Orchestrations range from simple to lushly drawn; I will want to hear this soundtrack again on its own. The period set design and costumes are equally gorgeous. Nothing is lacking from the technical side of this production, especially the luminous photography by Lasse Frank Johannsen.
Is the chronology of Tolkien’s life accurately represented? Mostly. Some things are moved in and out of their proper order: the moment Edith danced for Ronald in a wood happened not early in their courtship, but later near the end of the War and after their first son was born. The couple had in real life wed *before* Tolkien was shipped off to France, though in the film it is depicted in a different timeframe, where they part from each other in an achingly romantic scene that did not quite happen. But it isn’t disprespectful; nor too off base. Edith actually did choose to break off her engagement with another man to be with John Ronald, just at a different time. Nitpickers: your mileage will vary, but if you’re looking for a documentary, this is not it.
Karukoski is determinedly earnest in this entire production. It is hard to fault him for much because of this earnestness towards his own subject. Keep in mind this project is directed by an accomplished filmmaker that we in English-speaking countries know nothing about. Tolkien was there in his life from very early on: 12 year-old Karukoski was equally charmed by an English author he knew nothing about; yet reading all those Finnish Dwarven names in “The Hobbit” turned on the fires of his imagination by reflecting the familiar within the fantastic. His endeavor here is to bring that artistic line of inspiration full circle.
I won’t spoil it – but I was just blown away by the emotion of the final scene. This is a powerful drama that is not afraid to examine loss. There is much to admire here as a quality piece of filmmaking: the delicate use of lighting, the use of Wagner’s opera in a surpringly winsome way (as if there could ever be such a thing), and the rarified air of actors who are up to the task of handling emotions and intellect with such profundity.
Yet I was left wondering how much more could have been covered, had there been a legal chance to do so. I want to see another film someday about the struggles of Tolkien to balance his scholarship with his crazy ambitious approach to a writing career, delivered to life by the unexpected sudden worldwile success of “The Hobbit,” and all the publishing fights and fueds Tolkien would later have trying to get “Lord of the Rings” completed, unfortunately we never get there. Therefore it is left to other hands to explore the depth of his later life and works; yes I am asking for a sequel, technically authorized by the Estate, that will give us all that stuff too.
This movie rests perfectly at the intersection of DEAD POETS SOCIETY and recent Oxford Professor Life Story THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING. If this movie was a mess not worthy of your time or did not honor the Professor, trust me, we would tell you. We’re TheOneRing.net and we’ve been doing this for 20 years.
Tolkien was the first super-geek, willing to bring his deeply imaginative “nonsense” into the world only to see people love it. He faced enough loss in one year to match many other person’s lifetimes. TOLKIEN the movie let’s us see and feel his life in an immediate way that only a good film can achieve.
The internet’s already buzzing like Beorn’s beehives with images and clips from the World Premiere of the new Fox Searchlight movie “Tolkien”! If you have not been looking at social media to spare yourself GoT spoilers (which is sensible) let us bring you some good early buzz as the FIRST FAN REACTIONS to the film are now pouring in!
We have a sample from the lucky audience who attended a special advance screening at Wonder*Con in Anaheim; attended by the film’s director Dome Karukoski where I moderated audience Q&A afterward (but honestly I was so emotional by the end of the film it was hard to collect myself). The Premiere in London also is producing some amazing responses.
But ours was the FIRST AUDIENCE IN NORTH AMERICA to see the finished film — these are first gut reactions (not spoilery at all):
I had no idea that I would be taken on such an emotional journey generating both out-loud laughter AND tears. It instantly reframed my reading experience of Tolkien’s works and made it even more poignant for me. I can’t recommend this film highly enough. Don’t forget to bring a hankie! I give this 5 master Rings! – David Baxter
TOLKIEN is a beautiful, graceful movie about one of the most influential authors of our time. It’s made with intelligence and compassion, and is a deeply moving tribute to a great man.” — Ellen Monocroussos
It’s a tribute to the power of languages and storytelling and the surprising friendships that change one’s life. I can’t think of a better person in history than J.R.R. Tolkien who could illuminate this subject, and I’m thrilled with the results. Here is how an orphaned, penniless child became the greatest author of the 20th Century by finding strength and love from a kindly Priest, the lads who became his “found family” in the T.C.B.S.; and Edith Bratt, the love of his life that he could never give up on. Overall feel and look of this film rests perfectly at the intersection of DEAD POETS SOCIETY and THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING. The final scene with Nicholas Hoult and Genevieve O’Reilly was exquisite with pure emotion! I was floored at end, but in that bittersweet way you feel uplifted yet don’t know exactly why you are crying. — Clifford Broadway “Quickbeam”
Hoult did an excellent job of giving us Tolkien’s mind at work – the final scene in Barrows cafe absolutely floored me (I felt like I cried through every other scene)! My husband liked the fact that the film did not glorify the horrible side of war. The bit we both loved was the walking conversation Tolkien had with the mysterious Professor Wright about the importance of language. To us, it hinted at so many important influences in JRRT’s life; Sean said it made him think of the walk Tolkien would have with C.S. Lewis at Magdalen. — Laural and Sean Armster
TOLKIEN is a tasteful glimmer into the life of the man who brought many of us joy, wonder and a family of friends through his imaginative writing and intricate world building. To see that Middle-earth was inspired by transformative relationships like the one’s we’ve all formed by simply being Ringers felt full circle. From the cinematography to the chemistry of the cast, TOLKIEN is just a beautiful film. And while it’s only a small peek behind the curtain of J.R.R. Tolkien’s life — I love the insight we’re given and mystique we’re left with. — Chelsea Schwartz
This movie humanizes the legend of J.R.R. Tolkien, and shows that the father of fantasy dealt with all the trials every human goes through. I respect the man even more after seeing TOLKIEN. — Justin Sewell
Watching the movie was like falling in love with Film again. The scenery and characters were so beautifully intertwined that all of it made amazing storytelling. So I’m glad to be able to share this with TheOneRing.net and the director, Dome Karukoski. Thank you, truly. — Abie Ekenezar
TOLKIEN is a very beautiful film to look at, from the cast and set locations to the costumes and decor, but what really sets this film apart from a more historical narrative is the subject. JRRT was not just a brilliant linguist, but a masterful storyteller who really understood what words mean in a culture, the impact that words and phrases could have to a reader or orator. My favorite sequences in this film are when we see Ronald exploring a word and deriving a story from that word. It is the act of creation, of an artist working out if the word is a Person, Place or Thing and deriving a story from the evolution of that word into meaning. Both Director Dome Karukoski and actor Nicholas Hoult do a wonderful job conveying this concept. — Cathy Udovch
Film is well put-together and does have the right “feel” to it, all credit to Dome Karukoski on that. Casual viewers will get a lot from this TOLKIEN movie. Excellent music and sound. Wasn’t expecting that but very well done. Good amount of humour. Also wasn’t expecting that but pleased it was there. Tolkien the academic is a bit peripheral here. The chronology of his life and some details are just wrong. The War crowds out a lot of other influences on him. I think the Tolkien movie is a nice film, and I expect casual viewers will enjoy it (although they may struggle with lack of Middle-earth references). Performances are good and sound well done. But hardcore Tolkien fans will struggle with historic accuracy and balance of influences. Solid performances by Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins. — Shaun Gunner, Tolkien Society Chair
That’s just the first smattering of opinions coming through – and we will add more soon!
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