This is part one of a two part interview with Julia Golding, founder of Project Northmoor and the Oxford Centre for Fantasy, which is dedicated to creativity and the study of Oxford’s most famous fantasy writer, J.R.R. Tolkien. Like Tolkien, she studied at the University of Oxford where she received a Doctorate in English Literature. Her CV includes British diplomat and Oxfam policy adviser, as well as multi-award winning author of children’s and young adult novels, with over a half a million books sold worldwide, which have been translated into many languages.

Julia Golding

Mithril: What is your first memory of reading Tolkien?

Julia: Your question reminded me that I had a first unsuccessful attempt at reading The Hobbit too young on my own (around 6 or 7) which put me off Tolkien. I wish someone had read it to me – or steered me towards a recording –because it took me a long while to rediscover The Hobbit. But then came the summer when I was ten. I decided to try Tolkien again but started with The Lord of the Rings. I have a vivid memory of lying on a sofa in my childhood home in Essex, suburban Southeast England. I can even conjure up the feeling of the sofa fabric and the cool room with the sunny road outside. I was enchanted, completely lost in his world. I got to the end, and immediately went back to The Fellowship of the Ring, because I couldn’t stand for the experience to end – so I carried on lying down reading. It really was a turning point for me; ever since then he has helped inspire my passion for creating worlds in fiction.

Mithril: You’ve written over 60 novels, and once said “[Tolkien] is a key influence over the way I write and the reason I became an author.” Can you delve into this a bit more?

Julia: It is connected to his example as a creator of myth. He wrote about us being sub-creators, how we can be a little like a god to our own worlds. I love the idea that we each have the ability to create these microcosm universes, decide the rules and nature of the worlds, invent the peoples, their behaviour, culture and languages. Tolkien led by example. His enduring appeal to me is as a uniquely creative mind whose subcreation has unrivalled internal consistency, length, breadth and depth.

I was also inspired by how he wrote about the things that mattered to him by using them to power the structure holding up Middle-earth. He didn’t come at you with an obvious allegory and bash you over the head with the application; he famously wrote in the Preface to The Fellowship of the Ring that: ‘I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.’

That doesn’t mean, of course, there aren’t values or messages to be drawn, but these are those connected with the reader’s experience. You can be a person of faith, no faith, and from the whole range of world cultures, and still there will be something important there for you. He found great power in such stories as those where the hero sacrifices themselves, displays humanity to the enemy, or fights a battle where victory is also a kind of defeat – all of which can be linked to source stories ranging from the Bible to George MacDonald and William Morris, via Old Norse sagas and Anglo-Saxon poetry. This method of using the things you find powerful as a code underlying your own story showed me how to draw on what I care about to create something uniquely mine – and hopefully the reader senses this and cares too.

The University of Oxford © Steven Vacher bit.ly/3kPBZN7

Mithril: You hold a Doctorate in English Literature from the University of Oxford. While there, did you study Tolkien’s works?

Julia:  I studied Tolkien when I did my undergraduate degree, which was in [the University of] Cambridge back in the mists of time. I wrote a final year paper on Tolkien and C.S. Lewis looking at their different approaches to mythopoeia. I didn’t become a professional writer for another fifteen years, but that third-year thesis stayed with me.

Tolkien’s House on Northmoor Road ©Owen Massey McKnight bit.ly/2V5W86P

Mithril: You are the founder of Project Northmoor, a center for creative studies with a focus on fantasy and J.R.R. Tolkien. How did the idea for this come about? Can you talk about the process of pulling it together?

Julia:  This all came out of the attempt to buy Tolkien’s house, which began in November 2020, launching in December that year – all in super-quick time as we were trying to buy it before anyone else did. I live close by the house. When I cycle past, I have always thought it would make a perfect creative writing centre and would be a wonderful way to honour Tolkien’s legacy. There isn’t anywhere like that in the UK, which is astonishing considering his global importance as a writer. When we started the campaign to buy it, we decided the idea of having a literary centre in Oxford was a valid goal even if we didn’t achieve our aim for the house. We wanted to provide a place for those who love Oxford fantasy to come for inspiration. When we didn’t make the target in the first three months, we had to stop as the vendor wanted to take another offer. Such a shame as we really gave it our best shot! Many Tolkien fans around the world were really generous but there just weren’t enough of us to get us over the line. We then went to plan b and began looking for another venue for the centre. However, that meant we started off online. That was a blessing in disguise as it made us think outside the box of what residential creative centres usually offer. We could be global from the outset, building a wonderful community of creatives who are inspired by Tolkien and other Oxford fantasy writers.

In the second part of this interview, we’ll share a video where Julia visits a barrow which may have helped inspire the Barrow Downs scene in The Fellowship of the Ring.

The Pembroke College’s annual Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature this year will be turned into an online symposium. This year’s lecture will discuss a particularly timely subject: “…the importance of fantasy in times of crisis: how science-fiction and fantasy literature respond to, and provide inspiration during, moments of despair and personal difficulty.”

JRR TolkienMore on The Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature:

The Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature was established in 2013 at Pembroke College, Oxford, where J.R.R. Tolkien worked for twenty years as professor of Anglo-Saxon. Speakers in the series are given freedom to discuss any aspect of fantasy literature, broadly defined to include other types of speculative fiction. Our aim is to honour J.R.R. Tolkien’s legacy by promoting the study of fantasy literature.

This event is free but they are inviting donations for The Society of Authors’ COVID-19 Crisis Fund.

Full details are available on The J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature website.

This just in from our friends at the Tolkien Society regarding Oxonmoot 2018: 

300 Tolkien fans from around the world are meeting in Oxford this weekend to celebrate the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien. The event, taking place at St Antony’s College, Oxford from Thursday 20th to Sunday 23rd September, has sold out due to the increasing popularity of Tolkien’s works. The event follows last month’s publication of The Fall of Gondolin and coincides with the Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth exhibition at the Bodleian Library.

The event itself will include talks from leading Tolkien scholar – including writer John Garth – quizzes, workshops, an art exhibition, a masquerade, a Hobbit bake-off, a party and a visit to the exhibition at the Bodleian Library. The weekend concludes, as always, with Enyalie, a ceremony of remembrance at Tolkien’s grave in Wolvercote Cemetery on Sunday morning. With attendees from 25 different countries, this year’s Oxonmoot takes place following the Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller, The Fall of Gondolin, proving the continuing popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien as author relevant in the 21st Century. Tolkien’s best-known work was The Lord of the Rings, which has been translated into over 50 languages and estimates put sales at over 150 million copies worldwide.

Founded in 1969 by Vera Chapman, The Tolkien Society is an educational charity and literary society with the aim of promoting the life and works with J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien himself supported the organisation and gave it his seal of approval by agreeing to become The Tolkien Society’s President. On Tolkien’s death the family recommended he stay as President, so, to this day, he remains The Tolkien Society’s Honorary President in perpetuo. The Society has over a 1,600 members and hosts events up and down the country every week.

Shaun Gunner, Chair of The Tolkien Society, said: “This is the largest ever Oxonmoot, and this is testament to the growing popularity of Tolkien and his works, and ever-increasing numbers shows that people want to share their passion for Tolkien with others. Oxonmoot has been going for over 40 years and provides an excellent opportunity for hundreds of fans from around the world to come together for a weekend of fun and fellowship in Oxford, a location so important to Tolkien.” He added, “Oxonmoot always takes place in September to coincide with the birthdays of Bilbo and Frodo, but this year we have a record number of attendees coming to St Antony’s College to enjoy the longest-running Tolkien event in the world.

Although Oxenmoot 2018 is sold out, if any of our readers are lucky enough to be going, we’d love to get a report on how the weekend went! You can send it to spymaster@theonering.net.

Updated 11/3/17 – From time-to-time you, the fans, email TORn about events of interest to other fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and/or Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. As a service to our readers, we decided to created this new feature: a listing of upcoming events to keep everyone apprised of where they can hook-up and commiserate with other fans, learn a thing or two, or just plain enjoy the fandom that we’ve all come to know and love.  From Howard Shore concerts in Paris, to fan get-togethers in Kentucky and South Carolina, to exhibitions in Staffordshire, U.K., it’s all listed here! The list will be updated periodically as past events drop off and future events are added. If you know of an upcoming event, please let us know either in the comments section of this story, or by emailing spymaster@theonering.net. – TORn, ‘Together in Tolkien’

Continue reading “Fall/winter Tolkien/LOTR events: your ‘go-to’ list”

TolkienReadingDayBrisbane Tolkien Fellowship are celebrating Tolkien Reading Day on the weekend of 19-20 March this year.  The theme for Tolkien Reading Day 2016 is Life, Death, and Immortality in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. So if you’re in the Brisbane area or are visiting Queensland during March why not drop by and join in the fun.

Continue reading “Queensland Tolkien Fans are celebrating International Tolkien Reading Day”