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.
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!
EDITOR’S NOTE: This opinion piece by 20-year veteran contributor Clifford “Quickbeam” Broadway comes from a personal perspective. TheOneRing.net strives to maintain an open dialogue amongst fans.
Just a week ago, U.K. based The Guardian let loose a ham-fisted distress call to get unsuspecting Ringers to click over to their site. Yahoo News regurgitated the story with even worse distortion. We’re here to tell you – don’t fall for it.
T’was a misleading article about how the Tolkien Estate “have fired a broadside” at the upcoming TOLKIEN biography film which is soon to be released theatrically by Fox Searchlight on May 10th (special advance screenings on May 7th). The movie, though not made under the auspices of the Estate, is an elegant ode to Tolkien’s early years, weaving swaths of memory and time together into a tone-poem portrait of a unique life.
Just one look at that click bait story and you’ll get the wrong idea right away; as if a darkly serious antagonism or threat against the filmmakers was underway when that’s just….. not….. true. Here we get a quick lesson on spin. Let’s get to the simple context of what the Tolkien family REALLY said.
As most may already know, the Tolkien Estate is comprised of direct descendants of J.R.R. Tolkien who have control over the body of works written by him. They are simply doing what they have always done. It is their duty to make a clear position on what is and *what is not* authorized by them. Here is the language of their statement:
“The Family and the Estate do not endorse the film or it’s content in any way. It is our wish to make clear that they did not approve of, authorize, or participate in the making of [the film].”
This is no big deal – we’ve seen this type of thing before. They are simply saying they weren’t involved in the production because people would naturally jump to that conclusion. This is pretty much an expected response for them to say ‘we are not involved.’ No need for the tabloid treatment of it, so come on Guardian, stop with the click bait. This is basically the Estate’s way of saying: “Hey out there! If you’re seeing that film but want the REAL story, get a copy of Humphrey Carpenter’s “J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography.” which we are behind 100%.”
Even Tolkien scholar John Garth who wrote “Tolkien and the Great War” said that the Family’s response to this biopic was “sensible.” We’ve seen the Tolkien Estate’s general disapproval of Peter Jackson’s six Middle-earth films before. They want people to appreciate the books on Professor Tolkien’s terms – a profoundly effecting literary journey we have all loved and appreciated.
The Guardian dug up Christopher Tolkien’s comments out of mothballs from a rare personal interview to further stir the mud – and it just makes me uncomfortable when they use this man’s words in such a way as to create a schism between fans and the author’s legacy.
Christopher has been such an intelligent, cautious caretaker of his father’s works. I also acknowledge his dismay at the sweeping commercial embrace of same. I get it. While writing and filming our documentary Ringers: Lord of the Fans, I learned first-hand how the difficult dance of Art and Commerce was underway within this breathtakingly large fandom. As newer generations of fans join the fold of Tolkien readership, the movies’ viewership also grows (and vice-versa), the community of players enjoying LOTR video and boardgames also grows, attendance at conventions and surprising cosplay also increases, and though Christopher may have been dismayed at such an embrace by popular culture, this has become something of a symbiotic relationship. I foresee very healthy book sales of Tolkien’s works and on the horizon I still see his place never changing among the rarified air of beloved authors (even as Amazon Prime prepares the world for a new embarkation to Arda).
Now Christopher has stepped down from his post. We have younger scions of the family watching over things now; and the grandson of the Professor, Adam Tolkien, is one of several people at the Estate guiding decisions and working out new licensing deals. In 2012 he said: “Normally the Executors of an Estate want to promote a work as much as they can. But we are just the opposite. We want to put the spotlight on anything that is not The Lord of the Rings.” What does this mean? They’re interested in steering your attention to Tolkien’s life, to his many other great works, The Silmarillion and beyond, and to his artworks and scholarship.
This upcoming TOLKIEN movie will do just that. It will bring general viewers to an emotional space of understanding the man himself in a very human way. It’s not a historical documentary. It’s a dramatization. Hardcore Ringers can nitpick at the historical accuracy but still appreciate the breadth of emotion and insights offered by a cinematic take on a scholarly life. And it will make people want to learn more about him and the T.C.B.S., the youthful friends who impacted Tolkien so much.
We talked about this on our livestream show TORn Tuesday just last week. Come join the live chat – every Tuesday at 5pm Pacific Time – we will have special guests from the TOLKIEN movie coming soon to embrace more thoughtful discussion on the life of the man, the linguist, the war veteran, the author.
Waaaayyy back in time in the late 20th Century, four creatives lurked about the wild frontier of the internet, pursuing their disparate interests, unknowingly united by a common passion. The internet was undiscovered country in that time, fertile ground for those with the right ingredients to plow, till and toil. This passion – a love of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien – brought together in an unlikely alliance a visionary, a musician, a server lord and a coder from three nations and two continents who would make history and launch the greatest gathering, collection and expression of Tolkien fandom as yet seen on this Earth.
Since TORn’s beginning early in 1999, Corvar (William R. Thomas) has been the mystery man behind the scenes working on TheOneRing.net’s server from where he lives in Wisconsin. A computer programming professional who, along with Calisuri (Chris Pirrotta), is the guy responsible for making sure that everything runs smoothly and the lights stay on. Corvar’s vast programming knowledge in the ever-changing computer field ensures that TheOneRing.net keeps clipping along without a hitch. But when we do hitch… he’s the one they call.
I recently visited “Tolkien – Maker of Middle-earth”, an exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City, which runs through May 12. The exhibit is the most extensive display of original Tolkien material gathered in one place for several generations. It includes pieces from The Morgan, The Bodlein Library archive at Oxford University, the Marquette University Libraries in Milwaukee, and private lenders. It takes you on a journey through the life of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (or as we know him – J.R.R.) with photos, letters, text, and Tolkien’s own work. For me, it was a truly awe-filled and emotional experience.
To enter the exhibit, you walk through the round green door of Bag End to behold a wall-sized mural of Tolkien’s painting of Hobbiton. There are other murals throughout the exhibit, and it is cool to see his work so large because things that are usually seen as tiny details are suddenly more apparent, and you are drawn in to the landscape. But the real attraction of the exhibit is Tolkien’s actual work.
On display is an extensive selection of his original drawings, paintings and hand-written manuscripts. I can’t possibly describe in words what it is like to stand in front of the original hand-painted dust jacket for “The Hobbit”, replete with Tolkien’s handwritten comments in the margins; to view “Conversations with Smaug” so closely that you can see J.R.R’s brushstrokes; to revel in the light of “The Forest of Lothlorien in Spring.” One of my personal favorites is “Bilbo Comes to the Huts of the Raft Elves”, the image chosen for the exhibition’s catalog cover. If you can’t make it to the museum, I highly recommend this book with the same title as the exhibit. It is available online and includes full color images of every piece in the exhibit along with the accompanying text.
There are early sketches for The Doors of Durin, which were a special treat for me because I recently painted a life-sized version of the West-Gate of Moria (Speak “Friend” and Enter) at Scum and Villainy Cantina in Hollywood, where Torn Tuesday is broadcast from. There are even pages Tolkien created to look like they were from The Book of Mazarbul – the book that the Fellowship finds besides Balin’s tomb – hand-calligraphed, painted, torn and burnt. Tolkien the artist could have found himself a place on the team at WETA.
There were many manuscript pages filled with Tolkien’s tight, flourishy handwriting, written first in pencil, then erased and crossed-out, then written over in ink. It’s amazing to me that these were able to be deciphered and included in the books.
There were quite a few different, and often large, hand-drawn maps of Middle-earth; original book jackets for LotR; some of the charming drawings and letters from Father Christmas that Tolkien sent to his children. And there were illustrations I’d never seen before – beautiful pieces expressing Tolkien’s vision of Fairy and his ideas about how creativity flows. There were even full-sized newspaper pages crammed with his colorful doodles, some quite Elven in style.
One thing that really struck me was a hand-calligraphed
letter that was meant to be reproduced and included at the end of the Lord of
the Rings, but unfortunately, the publishers nixed the idea. The letter was
from Aragorn to Master Samwise, letting Sam know the King would be stopping for
a visit outside the Shire. The letter has two versions side-by-side written in
Tengwar – one in Sindarin, the common tongue, and one in the high-Elven speech,
And there was mention of an epilogue for LotR that Tolkien wanted to write. In it Sam was to tell his family what happens to all the characters after the end of the Lord of the Rings. When I researched this further, I found a snippet of his intended conclusion, which appears in the ninth volume of “The History of Middle-earth”:
‘… said Elanor. “A story is quite
different, even when it is about what happened. I wish I could go back to old
of our sort often wish that,” said Sam. “You came at the end of a great age,
Elanor; but though it’s over… things don’t really end sharp like that… There
are still things for you to see, and maybe you’ll see them sooner than you
It makes me think Tolkien knew that his epic story would go on and on, even if he could never have imagined the film-making technology that would become available to make it happen.
I hope you have a chance to see the
exhibit, for it is truly incredible and a joy to behold.
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 Walk to Bree
by David McG.
I met a wise old Hobbit on the winding path to Bree.
And as we strolled down woodland paths he began to sing to me.
He sang of high adventure, of friendship and of woe.
Of how he’d helped to save this world, many years ago.
The song it told a stirring tale as we seemed to float along.
Down ancient paths and long lost towns now living in his song.
He sang of safe security and days of endless fun.
And how that changed the fateful day his friends were forced to run.
From Hobbiton to Gondor’s halls his song it told the tale.
Of the greatest Hobbit who ever lived and a mission seemed doomed to fail.
The lifelong friends he came to make and those he’d come to lose.
And the terrible fate that haunted them all, and dark paths they had to chose.
The song unfolded a wondrous tale of his life spent in the Shire.
From farmers fields to Dragon’s Inn and feasting round a fire.
A long expected party, to honour a life long friend.
And the forming of a Fellowship, that stayed true to journey’s end.
He sang the tale of the Crownless King whose rule had long seemed lost.
A Captain who had saved them all, but paid a terrible cost
The mighty Ents, the Shepherds of Trees. White Wizard with a dark desire.
And a ring of gold that consumed all will, forged in a mountain of fire!
The pathway grew much darker as he sang of battles grand.
Hard fought by all the free folk assailed throughout the land.
The horrors at the Hornburg, Osgiliath overrun.
The last ride of the Rohirrim and the beating of the drum.
The Battle of the Pelennor, the fight to seal all fate.
The last march of all Free Folk to tear down the Dark Lord’s gate.
The shadows they all lifted and the sun shone brightly down.
Then a beaming smile lit the Hobbits face as we came into Bree town.
Into the Prancing Pony, a bustling, ancient Inn.
And he toasted as he raised his beer “Let adventure new begin!”
And there stood the ‘Citadel Guardian’ And there stood the ‘Fool of a Took!’ And there stood the ‘Defeater of Wizards’ As told in the Westmarch Red Book.
127 years ago today, January 3, 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien came into the world in Bloemfontein, South Africa. After the death of his father in 1896, his mother, Mabel, decided to return to England with ‘Ronald,’ just three years old at the time, and his younger brother, Hilary. While it’s possible, even likely, that the family would have returned to England eventually, the loss of his father at such a young age, the move back to England, and the loss of his mother less than ten years later, propelled Ronald on an adventure that would take him ‘West of the Moon, East of the Sun.’
Tolkien’s adventures included meeting and eventually marrying the love of his life, Edith; fighting in World War I; attending and later teaching at Oxford; meeting, collaborating (and having a few pints) with his fellow Inklings, including C.S. Lewis; and, of course, creating and writing about the beloved realm of Middle-earth.
Today is a day for all of us to celebrate the life of a great man, and our love of the world and characters he created. As is the tradition every year, the Tolkien Society invites his fans to raise a glass (alcoholic or not, alone or with friends), to “The Professor.” Alternatively, you may want to celebrate by pulling something off of your shelf of Tolkien’s works (we all have one), opening it to a favorite passage (or two), and smiling in remembrance.
However you choose to celebrate, let’s all wish a happy birthday to J.R.R. Tolkien and the amazing, awe-inspiring legacies he left us.
You know that new “The Lord of the Rings,” series that was just announced by not only Amazon Video and Warner Bros. but the Tolkien Estate?
It has everyone on the interwebs with even a passing interest in Middle-earth speculating on the content, imagining how it will tie in to beloved LOTR characters like Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Gandalf and Aragorn. It has even brought “The Silmarillion” to the forefront of the conversation, with people praying to Eru Iluvitar for an adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic, sweeping mythology.
However this series cannot be, and will not be, an adaptation of that work because the rights haven’t been sold. The Tolkien family has clearly decided not to do so. So sorry Silmarillioners — yet, some hope yet remains.
The information given to media, and covered widely from Entertainment Weekly to the Associated press to The Hollywood Reporter, uses “Lord of the Rings” seven times in six paragraphs, but then seemingly contradicts that usage with language that also comes directly from the press release.
“Amazon’s LOTR series will be set in Middle-earth and explore new storylines preceding Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.”
So if we made a TV series about the Great Depression in the U.S. (1929 to 1939) but it takes place during World War I (1914 to 1918) is it really about the Great Depression?
“The Lord of the Rings” title’s frequent use is no accident. It is an intentional marketing strategy employed in the press release. PR writers and lawyers deliberately wrote “The Lord of the Rings TV series” as often as possible and hoped the media would echo it and, it worked. But is it true? How is something set before LOTR a LOTR series?
What didn’t make it into most media accounts, but that you can see at the end of the story, is the press release name drops that also mention Peter Jackson, New Line Cinema, the titles of the three movies and book, Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin and Orlando Bloom and 17 Academy Awards — including Best Picture.
This will be said over and over between now and when the Amazon series goes live for the first time.
Check the quote again:
“… LOTR series will be set in Middle-earth and explore new storylines preceding Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.”
There they go dropping another book title in the story and then clearly state the series explores NEW story lines that happen BEFORE the book begins. It really can’t be much clearer. The events in the series happen before the book(s) and the Peter Jackson films that adapted them.
More on Jackson later.
A little further down the story comes a quote from a representative of the Tolkien Estate and Trust, from a person almost no potential viewer has heard of but who speaks with the authority of Tolkien.
“Sharon and the team at Amazon Studios have exceptional ideas to bring to the screen previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original writings,” Matt Galsor said.
We like that part: “based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original writings.”
We all know Tolkien’s story has a page one where the story starts. We all know the story ends with THE GRAY HAVENS chapter and the sentence, “He drew a deep breath. “Well, I’m back,” he said.”
So how is this TV series actually a “Lord of the Rings” series that happens before the books begin but also isn’t “The Hobbit” but is based on the author’s original writings?
You may already know. We think of Tolkien selling the story of LOTR but he didn’t. He sold the LOTR as a book, not as a story.
Tolkien managed to get Harper Collins to publish the third part of his “The Lord of the Rings” book with a group of appendices, organized into sections A to F. When Tolkien famously sold the rights of his book(s) to United Artists in 1969, it was about what was between the covers — not the start and finish of the story — and that includes those sections on languages, writing and spelling, calendars and family trees.
But Appendix A and Appendix B aren’t just lists or dates. They offer out what the press release promises, “storylines preceding Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring … based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original writings.”
So yes, the series will explore the past, perhaps the distant past, before the story of the War of the Ring and yet, it will still be based on the contents between the covers in “The Lord of the Rings.”
****** SPOILER WARNING ******
To save you from running to your copy of the books, here is a brief summary of the material that is legally available for production and is part of what Tolkien sold, the book “The Lord of the Rings” :
APPENDIX A – THE NUMENOREN KINGS
You “Silmarillion” supporters, sad because there is no chance of an adaptation of that book, can keep your candle burning. But it might only be a fools hope. The only content legally available is a recap of the Sil in LOTR. It doesn’t have everything but it has some big stuff. We get three jewels, their theft by Morgoth, his fortress called Thangorodrim, war against him from the baddest Elves, and Luthien Tinuviel and Beren getting a Silmaril from Morgoth’s Iron Crown and more, but all of this is just a smattering from the massive scale story of the Elves and Men.
Numenor and its line of kings that eventually lead to ruin and the scattering of the realms in exile, might work as a multi-season series. If you recall, Appenix A also has the kings of Arnor, Gondor the Dunedain — Aragorn’s people — and the Stewards of Gondor.
Oh and the tale of Aragorn and Arwen.
The history of Rohan is there, as is some of the events leading up to the Dwarves’ mission in “The Hobbit,” films, touched on by them in the three-film adaptation.
So Elves and Men with Dwarves available too if needed. And who can tell the story of the downfall of Men better than an immortal Elf? If I were Amazon, I would lock up Hugo Weaving to a multi-season contract ASAP. He could be the character that holds it all together.
Here we find a brief account of the battles in the north during the War of the Ring. It also mentions some wizards and how Gandalf received the Ring of Fire.
We also get some major events of the Second Age dealing with Numenor and the Rings of Power. This content was said to be gathered by none other than Merry, which could provide a narrator to hold the structure together. Is Dom busy?
Thinking this through, it seems probable that the new Amazon series will focus on the kingdom of men and its success and eventual failures, mostly from Appendix A.
Speaking of failures, Deadline reports that Amazon has failed to talk to Jackson and “has not tried to enlist the help of, or even reached out to Peter Jackson.”
In the spirit of full disclosure, Jackson invited me to visit his set for “The Hobbit” films and report on what I saw. He also gave me a lot of access. Some would say that distorts on how I might offer thoughts about his work and his potential work on this project.
Thing is, I can’t fathom that Team Jackson wants to take the reins for the LOTR TV adaptation. I can’t comprehend that he wants to devote more years of his life by returning to Middle-earth. He was hesitant to return for “The Hobbit” and he suffered some backlash for it.
I don’t think he would take the job in either a director’s chair or in a producer’s role.
We can hope other parts of his machine are involved, such as the award-winning Weta Digital and the deeply respected Richard Taylor and his crew at Weta Workshop, but that completely depends on the talent Amazon Video gathers and what they choose to use.
Anyway, that is what Amazon is planning to do. And boss Jeff Bezos, one of the most wealthy geeks who ever lived, is willing to spend to make it happen. Join us as we dread and anticipate the latest adaptation of Tolkien’s works.
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