A few weeks ago, Daedalic invited TheOneRing.net and others to a special hands-on playthrough session of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, followed by a Q&A session with Tolkien lore expert Damiri Knapheide. With almost an hour of playtime across many levels, I had the chance to see a bit of the world they have created, and the lovely chat with Damiri did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for a full playthrough on release day, May 25th.
As a casual gamer on the best of days, I was not the easiest guest for our hosts to guide through each level – we had many a laugh at my ineptitude with various controller skills, but I was still having a blast, and didn’t feel like I was in over my head or wouldn’t enjoy the game at my own speed and skill level. The gameplay is focused on stealth, but I was here for the story driven experience – seeing Mirkwood and Mordor through the eyes of talented artists, who clearly have a passion and deep respect for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
The team chose as their backdrop the period of time between Bilbo’s escape from the goblins in The Hobbit, and when the fellowship enters the Mines of Moria in The Lord of the Rings. What happened with Sméagol/Gollum in those years? The books tell us a few tidbits of information, for example through Gandalf’s exposition and in the Appendices – this game connects those dots into a coherent story. The dual (dueling?) personalities are at the forefront in this game’s morality system, with many opportunities to choose different actions and responses based on your preference for whether you feel like Slinker or Stinker (Sam’s words) at the time. These choices affect the game play significantly – we were told that one level is completely different based on your morality choices to that point.
I was impressed with the narrative department at Daedalic, represented in this session by Damiri Knapheide. It’s a tough job with many people watching carefully – complex rights issues around books (some usable, some not), movie and media representations, and a very particular fan-base. Damiri’s passion and knowledge were obvious to me, and I definitely look forward to having more opportunities to chat with him informally in the future if the opportunity arises. Even in the brief hour I had to wander in their game, there were scores of subtle background nods to the wider corpus, and backstories for prominent lore figures that were alive at this time.
With an estimated 25-30 hour playthrough time and the chance to play multiple times making different choices in the morality system, I only had a glimpse of all the game has to offer. A challenge with a game of this nature, squeezed in between two fixed points in time and character development, the question remains – can Daedalic tell a good story, where your choices have an impact, and yet end with the same Sméagol/Gollum as we know him when he meets up with Frodo and Sam in the books? I look forward to finding out.
Be sure to check out the new story trailer on YouTube.
Here is today’s press announcement for the game release:
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum™ Slinks Out of the Shadows on May 25th
The story-driven adventure across Middle-earth arrives this May for PC and consoles— Sméagol will swear it on the Precious!
Hamburg, Germany, March 23rd, 2023 – Today Daedalic Entertainment and NACON announced that their highly anticipated adventure game, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, will release to PC, PlayStation, and Xbox on May 25th. A version for Nintendo Switch™ is planned for later this year. Based on the beloved TheLord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, the fantasy game takes players on an epic journey across Middle-earth, starring one of the lore‘s most compelling characters: Sméagol – *Gollum, Gollum*.
Check out fresh gameplay from Middle-earth, with insights from the developers inspired by the iconic lore. Daedalic and Nacon will stream a special showcase at 06:30 pm CET on Twitch today.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is a story-driven action adventure. Embark on a perilous journey as Gollum, chasing the only thing that is precious to you. Climb, leap, and sneak your way past dangers or into advantageous spots. Gollum is skillful and sly, and torn by a split personality. It is up to you to decide whether to yield to the darker side of Gollum or trust the kinder gentler hint of Sméagol.
Co-published by Daedalic Entertainment and NACON, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is developed by a small team of passionate Tolkienites at Daedalic Entertainment in partnership with Middle-earth Enterprises. The game will release on PC, PlayStation®4, PlayStation®5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch™. A physical edition for consoles will also be available.
NACON is a company of the BIGBEN Group founded in 2019 to optimize its know-how through strong synergies in the video game market. By bringing together its 16 development studios, the publishing of AA video games, the design and distribution of premium gaming devices, NACON focuses 30 years of expertise at the service of players. This new unified business unit strengthens NACON’s position in the market and enables it to innovate by creating new unique competitive advantages. https://corporate.nacongaming.com/
About Daedalic Entertainment
Daedalic Entertainment publishes and develops high-quality games for all platforms. The company has a diverse line-up of high-quality titles, including classic adventures, RPGs, and strategy and multiplayer games. With an international team of around 100 employees, Daedalic is currently developing a new line-up of innovative games across consoles, PC, and mobile platforms.
Based in Hamburg, Germany, Daedalic is one of Europe’s most acclaimed publishers and developers. With a total of 32 awards in the German Developers Award (including multiple accolades for ‘Studio of the Year’) and 12 German Computer Game Awards for genre-defining games such as Deponia, Edna & Harvey, Silence, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, The Long Journey Home, and State of Mind, Daedalic is a record holder for the two most prestigious game awards in Germany. Recent publishing hits include Barotrauma, Unrailed!, Iratus: Lord of the Dead, Partisans 1941 and more.
Daedalic is currently developing The Lord of the Rings – Gollum. The story-driven adventure tells the story of Gollum from a perspective never witnessed before in any storytelling media, all the while staying faithful to the legendary books of J.R.R. Tolkien.
About Middle-earth Enterprises
Middle-earth created by J.R.R. Tolkien is the definitive, deepest, richest and most beloved fantasy world of our time. As its stewards and custodians, our goal is to consistently deliver a wealth of great content in both new, and known formats; to ensure Middle-earth’s rightful place as the world’s leading fantasy IP and brand, forever.
Inspired by our deep appreciation for the fictional world created by Professor Tolkien, we are dedicated to working with those providing highest quality products in accordance with best green business and sustainability practices, including fair trade, equality in the workplace, and a commitment to protect our earth, its wondrous beauty and the viability of every living creature. Middle-earth Enterprises has been producing and licensing films, merchandise, services, and live stage productions based upon The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit books, for more than four decades. www.middleearth.com.
[Note: The conversation has been edited down from the original due to space.]
Justin: Are the articles speculation on your part, or are you hinting at stuff you’ve actually seen? Joanna: In the cover story … and the article that I put up, the “questions answered” one … hardly any is speculation, um, if I’m saying something I’m saying something … when I put down here’s what I asked … then I printed word-for-word the answer I got.
Justin: Was there any discussion with the showrunners of, you know, a certain level of faithfulness? Joanna: … they’re not deviating from that core lore …
Justin: Is the sword that we see Narsil? Joanna: I’m gonna go and be safe and say pretty sure.
Justin: Can you provide any reaction to Lenny Henry as a Harfoot? Joanna: That is something that I would love to see.
Justin: Was the first teaser photo from last summer of the two trees in Tirion, was that intentional misdirection? Joanna: No
Justin: There’s so much comment about hair … let me start with Galadriel’s hair … Joanna: … fandoms are not a monolith, and what one person wants in the fandom is not what another person wants with the fandom … I tend to be very CG resistant in general … when we got to the Harfoots in the episodes I saw … that felt so Willow to me, and that is the highest compliment I can give anything … Do people really want a glow filter on Galadriel all the time? … The hair that you see in the photos and footage that you’ve seen is accurate to what I’ve seen … [but] I have not seen all the finished digital effects …
Joanna: I think the casting of Morfydd Clark is incredible because she’s not super well-known, though if you haven’t seen Saint Maude I really recommend you go see it because she is astonishing in that, and if you want to like get a preview of how, uh, you know a Galadriel that might go toe-to-toe with Cate Blanchett going like photo negative in The Fellowship of the Ring, like, that’s the performance that she gives in that film … she’s such a perfect casting for this because people … aren’t coming in with preconceived notions of her … so she can just become Galadriel.
Justin: What are those people with the antlers? Joanna: Here is what I can say about that, don’t worry too much about it. Justin: Are they an integral part of the story? Joanna: Don’t worry too much about it. They’re a very cool visual. It’s a very cool, practical effect visual.
Joanna: Does hair play an important part in the narrative? Joanna: Like Elf hair? As far as I know, no … I didn’t ask this question specifically … but as far as the story that I’ve seen so far, it does not seem to be related to the plot … I’m guessing … it’s an aesthetic decision.
Cliff: [There’s] all this Galadriel focus … but where’s Celeborn? Joanna: I haven’t seen him. Cliff: They’re saving him for a later season perhaps? Joanna: That would be my guess.
Justin: Is there a vibe of a CW show? Joanna: No. No. No. … that’s the concern that surprised me the most … attached to Bronwyn and Arondir, that people were like, oh, are they giving a CW … this idea of sort of star-crossed lovers is a recurring theme in Tolkien’s work … the rarity of those pairings … is what makes them so special … I can understand why, you know, a slightly forbidden romance would be part of it because that’s a theme that Tolkien was interested in. But it doesn’t smack of CW to me at all.
TORN: Is it possible this only gets one season? Joanna: Zero percent … they payed so much money for this, are you kidding me?
Joanna: There was the Covid, and the question was did they reconfigure the whole show when they shot the back end of the first season, what did they do during that Covid time? … did their understanding of what they want to do with the show fundamentally change? I can only give you the answer that JD and Patrick gave me … They said nothing fundamentally changed, in they plotted out their first season, and nothing … changed in the Covid pause … They took time during the Covid pause to map out Season Two … there wasn’t any massive structural changes. The other misapprehension that I’ve seen floating around is this idea that the first two episodes are sort of one thing, and then the rest of the season is something else. That’s not the case at all. It’s one flowing story. TORN: It’s not a two hour prologue? Joanna: It’s not … Cliff: Even in the new article it says there aren’t many time jumps aside from the first two episodes. Joanna: Am I saying there is no, uh, First Age stuff in this at all? No, Amazon has already told you that there is. But it’s not a massive prologue. No.
Justin: Jeff Bezos said early on ‘bring me the next Game of Thrones‘, and then they got Bryan Cogman the lore expert on Game of Thrones … Joanna: Bryan also happens to be a really good friend of mine … I’m a huge fan of his … I can see his fingerprints on it [The Rings of Power], but he was very clear he was only there in a consulting position right at the beginning. Cliff: … it led to worry … about the probability of nudity or sexualized elements to the story… Joanna: I don’t think Cogman or anyone in that writers’ room, and there’s so many smart, talented writers in that writers’ room, I don’t think any of them wanted to do like orgies in Middle-earth, ever, or anything like that.
Justin: A lot of people say it doesn’t look like there was a plan…did you get a sense that there is a five season plan? Joanna: I can’t say that for certain, but when they offered up their roadmap … 4-5 big stories they’re interested in telling, involving like Númenor and Sauron and the forging of the rings, and … I think the end after that, right, the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. I think they have the major beats of the whole story laid out.
Cliff: The novelty [of seeing the seven clans of dwarves and their lords] is the most powerful draw for me personally. Joanna: They [the showrunners] are interested in showing us a wide array of cultures of Middle-earth in a wide array of locations … I gasped when I saw Khazad-Dûm, like when I saw the first shot … sort of descending into Khazad-Dûm … I was dazzled by it, and they built that, I know they built that, […] they told me they did.
Joanna: I found a question I feel really comfortable answering … did I have a favorite performance so far? I think Markella Kavenagh who plays Nori Brandyfoot the Harfoot, she’s my standout by far. I just loved everything that she did … and I think stories about Elves and Men and Dwarves are … fun and interesting, but for me, it doesn’t really feel like it’s Tolkien without a Hobbit or Harfoot there, and I feel like once she showed up I was like I’m locked in, I get it. Cliff: But we have to acknowledge it is a bit of a lore squeeze. Joanna: Yup Justin: That’s the fear that a lot of fans have, that there’s so much good stuff in the Second Age, they don’t want this show to be told from the Harfoots’ perspective. Joanna: I don’t think its accurate to say it’s told from the Harfoots’ perspective – the Harfoots that we see are nomadic, and they have a rule they don’t engage with the bigger folk … You’re not going to see a Harfoot forging the rings or fighting a Balrog or anything like that as far as I know … they are not bending the text that far. Justin: Is the show being told from a certain perspective? Joanna: Amazon is very careful over and over again to call this an ensemble cast, and I don’t think it’s inaccurate … Amazon wants everyone to be in on the show, they want the deep dive lore loving […] people excited, and there’s so many little details in there that I think are gonna make people who are engaging on that level excited, but they want those people [fans of the Jackson films] excited, too … I wouldn’t say this is Galadriel’s show, or this is the Harfoots’ show, or Elrond’s show, or this is the Númenor show.
Justin: Can you help fans reconcile the idea that they’re creating new characters? Joanna: If you were just reading the Appendices of what happened in the the LotR trilogy … a character like Rosie Cotton … a character like that is not a big part of the history that you boiled down for the Appendices … but if you’re putting together the whole world, um, you want your Rosie Cotton since she’s important to matters … The Nazgûl, the nine kings, we know so little about them, right? So doesn’t the Amazon show have a really rich opportunity to introduce us to all of those men, and so that when they fall, it is a tragic story? … so when we lose them we will feel the loss of them. That’s pure speculation, but that’s I think a justifiable reason to add nine characters we may or may not have names for … The way they want to present Isildur … let’s spend time with Isildur … so that when it all shakes out the way it does, we really feel that. I find that kind of story-telling really interesting.
Justin: I hear the loin cloth we see on meteor man was a CG. Joanna: Honestly classic … If you’ve got a young actress and an adult man … [the intimacy coordinator might have been for Nori so she would feel comfortable.]
Joanna: Is your question, do I know who Sauron is after three episodes? Justin: Yeah, let’s go there. [Joanna pulls a red card that indicates she can’t answer in front of her face.] Justin: Well there you go.
Justin: Any hints that WETA workshop is involved? [Joanna pulls the red card in front of her face.]
Joanna: I’ll be really curious to see if we’ll be able to tell a demonstrable difference between the seasons shot in England and those shot in New Zealand … JD and Patrick said ‘Our characters are on the move, so you’ll understand it will make sense that maybe we won’t have access to the same vistas’ – I’m paraphrasing.
Justin: There’s a fear that if they share crews because they’re in the UK, it will look like other shows. Joanna: They are building a home studio in the UK … it will make production easier … In terms of will this show look like the Witcher or Wheel of Time … These are portraits [the posters and photos in Vanity Fair], they’re not the moving images that you’re going to see … When I saw the Wheel of Time screeners that we got which were finished … I spent a long time thinking about why that film, that show, didn’t look as good as I thought it should … there was something slightly off, I thought … it looked ‘costume-e-y’ … I did not feel that way watching [Amazon’s] The Lord of the Rings footage.
Justin: Are there any photos that almost made the cut? Joanna: There were many, many, many, many, many … conversations about … which photos were going to be in this piece and which weren’t … we had a beautiful portrait of Benjamin Walker as Gil-galad … I love all the photos … I would have put like all the photos we got [in the article] … I want to give you every single name of every single actor playing every single character … Amazon is like, hey, it’s February, we want to keep doling these cookies out … and let other outlets have some fun in sharing.
Justin: Cliff, what is your one ask? What do you wish you would have seen? Cliff: I want to see Celebrimbor with a hammer and tongs working over some molten ring-making chaos. I want to see the Elven smiths behind him watching, learning while he’s doing this ring-craft, and then, into the frame, reaches one long, slender hand with the golden robe and guiding Celebrimbor’s hand to a different position with the tongs … I want to see Annatar teaching Celebrimbor this most specific thing.
Justin: Can you give us one no context spoiler? Joanna: Oh that’s really fun! Hmmm … I’m sorry; if I come up with something, I’ll tweet it to you…
Cliff: We’re on the threshold … I’m going to quote Dune … “A beginning is a very delicate time…”
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…
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*Please Note: This was one of TheOneRing.net’s annual April Fools Jokes – We are not going anywhere…at least we don’t think we are!* KENOSHA, WISCONSIN — An official press release is scheduled for tomorrow, but we, the TORn founders and staff, want to notify all those who have supported us for the past 15 years that TheOneRing.net is shutting down.
The final decision was communicated in an all-staff conference call over the weekend, but it has been discussed for months, speculated about for years, and we’ve cracked jokes about it from podiums at conventions (that nobody took seriously at the time), but now the long-dreaded hour is finally upon us.
The four TORn Founders (Erica Challis, Chris Pirrotta, Mike Regina and William Thomas) reached a tentative decision last week, discussed it with Senior Staff (identities top secret), then included world-wide staff, active and inactive, on the weekend conference call.
“We have a real sense of accomplishment that the purpose of the website has been fulfilled,” said Regina on the call. “Erica and I were interested in “some guy” in New Zealand adapting “The Lord of the Rings” into movies, and when Chris and Bill found us it really elevated the effort. The next thing you know it became far more than the hobby we envisioned.”
“It’s the perfect time to go out on a high note, fresh off the recent success of the Hobbit movies and The One Last Party,” said Challis. “It is still our collective baby, but the four of us just feel content that it has run its course. We don’t want to be like a “Transformers” sequel.”
Pirrotta agreed with her, pointing out how much of a commitment 15 years is: “I was in college when this started with time to sit in a computer lab. All of us have jobs and kids and responsibilities now. We stayed true to our vision, didn’t sell the website for millions when offered, and we can all feel good about that.”
Thomas offered more practical reasons: “We made a commitment to not make a profit and to give the money away to charity if we did. We accomplished that and I’m proud that we kept the site pure. Plus, Star Wars is back, so we can all follow our true love again. Remember, TORn was just an ode to The Force dot net anyway.”