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Feb. 2, 2023

Tolkien 50 Years On

Tolkien 50 Years On

The best place to be a professor of languages.

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In September we will be commemorating 50 years since the death of Tolkien. In this episode Julia Golding and Jacob Rennaker look at the changing fortunes of Tolkien's reputation from that decade through to the present. They look at academic assessment, the influence on books and the world of visual media, films, TV and games. Where next for our favourite professor? Be sure to visit for more fantasy themed fun!

Hello and welcome to Mythmakers. Mythmakers is the podcast for fantasy fans and fantasy creatives brought to you by the Oxford Center for Fantasy. My name is Julia Golding. I'm an author and director of the center, and I am joined again by Jacob Rennaker, friend of the center and expert on Tolkien and board game enthusiast who's sitting over in Seattle in America now. This year, 2023 is unbelievably the 50th anniversary since the death of J r r Tolkin who died a old age in September of 1973. And so no doubt many people are going to be spending this year thinking about what this half Centry means and particularly what is the legacy of to 50 years on. It's possible that we may have enough distance from him to begin to understand how he's helped shape our culture and quite what he means to us all. At least that is the theme that we are going to be discussing today. So Jacob I was alive just when talking passed away. Not that I was aware of him. I was far too young for that. But has your whole life been lived post his death? Yes. I'm not going to ask for exact age, but you look a little bit younger than me. Yeah, Yeah. Yes, it has. So For many people like us, we always have always thought of him as someone who has gone before. We don't have the living memory of him. So let's try and recreate what status he had in 1973 when he died. Just how famous was he? So what's your understanding of his stature on the point at which he left us? And I'll be speaking from kind of an American Yeah, please do. Perspective here. And that's definitely aware of people and folks that I knew who are older, who read the books as they were coming out. And it definitely had an impact in America. And it's really fascinating, the American hippie subculture where there's this overlap between hippie subculture, anti-war movement at the time race, this is Vietnam that there's something about these books that just really captivated these people in that and this is around the same time, you had a bootlegged paperback version of Lord of the Rings that Ace books published and there's a whole legal Yeah. Buffle there. Yeah. But what that did was it made it widely available to a public that some of whom were, see this story of Soran Mordor, this dark force that's kind of an empire that's kind of stifling free speech and creativity. And so they're actually these people are applying this to the American government, to their own country's government, to the war, the military industrial machine of their own country. And saying, this here is essentially spelling out clearly, what is happening, what is wrong with America, and what we're protesting against that our own country is involved with. So it really struck a chord over here with some of the kind of politically militarily things that were happening at the time when it came on over here. Yeah. Funny you should say that about hippie culture because I was quite by different reading track entirely, I was reading Rupert Everett's autobiography, red Carpets and other Banana skins, which is about the first stage of his career. And he just as a sort of throwaway comment, talks about one woman in his circle, his parents' age, who goes away and joins a commune called Lost Lian in the sixties. I'm thinking, oh gosh. So that really was the thing that people were doing and they were using Kinan terms as a shorthand to all sorts of other we are countercultural, we are protesting. And I've seen the badges throw over for president, that stuff For the lives. Yeah. Thatthat stuff. And it does. So if we just go back to the point at which the books are published in 1950s, the kind of debates around it then, which Toki addresses in his preface is much more about how it reflects on the outcome of the Second World War the bomb, the A bomb, and so on. So that is one of the first things to sort of notice that the books have the applicability, which he talked about that each decade, each phase has made their own talking and it's happened quite quickly. So some other writers from the past, it takes longer for these cycles to happen, but we're talking, it was sort of in overdrive even towards the end of his life. But just going back to 1973, almost all those people were thinking about talking in terms of the books and the art that was inspired by the books. I think the beginning of the cartoon versions, that's the 77. It is a bit later, isn't it? Yep. Yeah, it is after death. I can't remember exactly, but it is not yet become a moving picture of any sort. So it's based on the books. And I think that from an English perspective everybody here knows what an Oxford professor is. There's a certain tweedy gen type, and he fitted that caricature. So that was quite strongly in people's minds. And so that plus the hippie culture was kind of funny because it seems like the opposite towhat he was. But he was famous enough to have the BBC make sort of programs about him interview him, which you can find on YouTube. So he isn't obscure, he's not like a forgotten figure. Not like Charles Williams or somebody like that. From the inklings he was noticed, but not, his literature was not valued in academic circles. That's absolutely certain his academic work was valued, but not his books, which are where in the Oxford common rooms were slightly embarrassing tos, has gone away and written this book about elves, that stuff. So I think while he had his fans and his defenders from w h Orden onwards when at the point at which he died, it was seen as a bundle of contradictions that Tolkien had this professorial career and he had the lasting legacy of his essays and things, which are still taught and read. And then there was all this fantasy stuff over here that little group of inklings put together. And you knows a bit iffy along with CS Lewis. They're all a bit kind of. So that I think was how it was seen then. Yeah, I know. And it's interesting. And America, you have the Tolkien Society of America definitely. I think latching onto the academic angle. So they meet their first meeting, the Token Society of America was in 1965 and they met beside the statue of alma Mater on the Columbia University campus. So invoking is one of the oldest colleges in the US really trying to, I think,borrow or get some kind of secondhand I don't know, pedigree for what they're doing, seeing what they doing as being worth pursuing not just from a fan fun perspective, kind of trivial perspective, but something that's worthy of discussing in depth and treating in articles and symposia and that sort of thing. So I think one of the things which helped stabilize some of those contradictions were the work of people like the Tolkien Society and of course Christopher Tolkien who are actually treating the fantasy as seriously as the academic work that he did. That talking did. And that real hard work, they were doing the papers, holding the symposium, taking this all seriously in a way which other people weren't. The sort of snobby literary people weren't actually kept that side of it alive. And I wonder it was part of the ingredients that makes him much more, well, we haven't got to today yet. Move on. So we are talking about our 50 year spread. So the seventies, we were left with this perplexing figure who's certainly not regarded as great literature, popular but not literature. And then moving on, we start to have people, there's a whole burgeoning of fantasy again and which is fueled by the books, which has been feeding into people writing the classic Fantasy three tone book. But you get outside literature, you're getting things like the back sheet, is it back sheet film? Yeah, of course. And talks about film rights mean, obviously the Beatles tried to make it earlier on, but that would've been ghastly. That's glam, please. That didn't happen film. I would've enjoyed it. I would love to see what they did with it. The musical might have been all right. But yeah, anyway, that's the, in a parallel world, somewhere, they've made it the Beatles in that parallel world. And I think we, I'm beginning to come into my own living memory here, so this helps. So if we think about it in the eighties, it's still a bit if you said, as I did when I was at Cambridge, I want to actually write my thesis on talking. And Lord of the Rings people did look at you as if, are you sure that's literary enough? My thesis in my undergraduate degree in my last year was about sub creation and the idea of creativity. And I was looking at CS Lewis and talking, and I know I had to sort of persuade my supervisor, this was sufficiently worthy. I wouldn't have any problem now because there are courses on it and it would be, there's loads of serious literature written about it, but it wasn't there when I was doing it. So it hadn't yet got over the line of moving to being regarded as literary, but it was prevalent in culture. So we have the Dungeons and Dragons movement. Movement. What does Dungeons and Dragons people call themselves as a collective fans? Yeah. Fandom of that beginning of computer games. One of the first things that became a computer game was The Hobbit. I remember it was people now would think it's just so analog. It was, well, you had to type in commands to get through a series of images, but we thought this was amazing. I spent one summer holiday in the eighties playing this and also the B B C made some fantastic audio versions, which you can still get and still stand up to a listen including the music, which had been around for a while. But they did a good interpretation of the music, very atmospheric, great cast. And that's certainly where I spent a lot of time listening to that. It was my favorite things on cassette tapeback in the day. So we're beginning to get it spreading out, but still, I could go up to people and if I said, do you know who Toki is? It wouldn't be instant recognition. But I think there's been a sort of, well, let's ask what's happening in America In the same, at the same era. Yeah. You were born yet In the eighties. Yes. Yes. Okay. You might Not remember it, but it's wobbling. Wobbling around. Yeah. And I, that's where, so yeah, definitely Lord of the Rings that kind of fantasy culture that wasn't main, certainly not mainstream. The high fantasy books wasn't kind of mainstream culture, widely accepted. That was a certain strand of fantasy, kind of hardcore fantasy that people who played games like Dungeons and Dragons would've really loved. And so there's, I think the greatest association that you had would be between Dungeon Dragons and Lord of the Rings, which, and talk about this later, the impact the Lord of the Rings had. That's certain things lifteddirectly from Lord of the Rings for the creation of Dungeons and Dragons. And then when you have Dungeons and Dragons culturally over here, this association kind accusation that dungeon and Dragons encouraged if not actively proselytized proselytized for Satan worship. That was a whole, right. So because you do have associations between these people, people we're talking like, or though now these people who play Dungeons and Dragons read Lord of the Rings, this sort of literature fantasy, this is clearly problematic. So in some cases it's seen with suspicion sometimes perhaps as a threat of sorts for people right-minded, upstanding,citizens that might need to Yeah, I think what's going on there is when you get really in love with Lord of the Rings, you kind of live in a world where you're seeing everything through the lens. A lot of the rings, it becomes not a belief system, not like a religion, but it has that power that they become the people you associate with. And you've got your own secret language and understanding and shorthand for things. And you can see how people could get suspicious of this. Right. Actually that reminds me, I did so cast your mind back to 1987 when I went to college. And at the fair when you have all the university societies, I tried to join the Cambridge University Tolkien Society. I did join. I paid my subs, went along to the first meeting, and I was such a fish out water. It was the cliche of extremely, I, I'm trying to find a nice word,Nerd. You can describe them as ORs if you need to. No, no, no, no, no. They weren't. Or at all. They were very gentle folk. But they lacked social skills with women. Put it like that. So I come in as bright eyed lover of Toki as literature, as the book into a room of slightly socially awkward young guys who were, whose way of sort of welcoming the outsiders talk about different forms of elish. Yeah. And I was thinking, oh, I'm coming in thinking I like this from the point of view of story. I want to write books like this. That's why I'm coming in. That's why I'm in. And I've discovered that the way they were relating to Toki was at this sort of technical level, which I just, I needed some crash course in Taki's languages to have any common ground. So that's where I think that sense of it was the province of a more nerdy type of person came from, is that those who tried to break into it kind of bounce back off because we couldn't, couldn't sort of relate. That's not the problem now, I think because it's opened up so more. But that was a 1980s problem. Moving on, we get to the 1990s and at the end, and we of course got the arrival of the internet in the late nineties, email hooray. And we get the rumor coming out of New Zealand that somebody is making a film. What was your first reaction when you heard someone was making a film of Lord of the Rings? Well, I am. Dunno if it's shamefully a late comer. So I wasn't reading, You weren't interested. Reading Lord of the Rings wasn't something I was aware of, but it went to myfather's credit. As soon as that came out I was out of the country for a while and then I'd come back and he said it was around December, this was December, 2001. And he said, I'm taking you right now to see Fellowship of the Ring. Okay. So that's what I, to see this, that's where it started. That's where it started from me. Yeah. So that came over. I saw that and that's what just really captivated me and introduced me. And then I just kind of plunged, then jumped straight into the deep end from that. But it was, yeah, so I can't say what it was like in my circle. It wasn't really, I wasn't aware of it then. Yeah. So by that part of the nineties I was doing a doctorate in literature at Oxford. Sorry. And talking, looking at it now, is literary. It had begun to be more of a sense of its literary value by then. And we were talking about it in our literary circles in Oxford. And my good friend Michael Sinatra, who's now a professor of literature in Montreal, he said, oh, he was the one who told me it was happening. And my reaction was, oh no, that's going to ruin it. Because I had in mind those Harry House houseman, those little figurines, like anim animated things. I thought, oh, the special effects are going to be terrible. They can't possibly live up to my imagination. The film that my imagination has been playing all these years. I was really worried, who is this Peter Jackson person? How dare. I was really, really worried. And Michael, bless him showed me online, one of the early trailers for it. I've heard Peter Jackson talk about this since that trailer was a sort of experimental things. They were putting together partly to quieten the worries of people like me, potential audience the many millions of us who were worried. And I saw that and the landscapes of New Zealand and thought maybe this is going to be okay. And I wasn't go in to see the films hostile. I went in hoping so I was in that band. So I think we can agree that even though Toki was important and growing and would often appear on a list of people's favorite novels of the 20th century, him and Jane Austin is often have the top two places by two favorite authors. The films then did the thing where his name and his value as a property has gone stratospheric. I mean it's like if we're going to draw this on a curve, it sort of is doing that and then it goes like that. So going back to you, you fell in love with Tolkien's World by seeing the film first, Right? Yeah. And what did you then think? Did you wait, did you see all the films then read the books? Or did you see Film? No, I read. I picked up. I picked up, yeah, I picked up the book right after the first film to see what happened next. Cause I was captivated by the world the ideas, the drama, the story, the characters, all of that was just a several ways. Yeah, when I got into the books and was eagerly anticipating the subsequent films as they came out. Yeah, I can remember the year each time, there was a year between each thing. So you'd come back from the cinema and Aror had said something like, let's hunt some walks or something. And you're thinking you are imagining them running across the landscapes and you had to wait a whole year until You saw for them to runto see that chase. Yeah. The anticipation was fun though. Yeah. Cause it was something to really look forward to. So I think we are describing the global phenomenon just through our own experience of this. So just thinking about your value of Toki and his sort of, so clearly he's given a lot to the whole idea of fantasy on screen. But before we think about that side of him, what about his value to changing the way we look at literature and the place of fantasy and literature a sort of more, I was going to say more serious conversation, but you know what I mean. It's the thing I met in the eighties where you had to argue for him being a literary of literary value. Whereas now I think that's gone and he's regarded as being seminal. So looking back with 50 years to the status of the rings, do you have any feelings or thoughts about it as it's placed within literature as a book and his other writings? Of course. Yeah, Yeah. No, that's a great question. I think that definitely, I think single-handedly made a case for the value of the genre of fantasy in literary circles. So first there was certainly a stigma, but he was kind of carving new ground and his, but he wasn't carving new ground. Hereally just kind of dusting off and bringing forward much older and older mode of story. And so I think it's easier to see now. So people, you can look at what are the antecedents to Tolkien and you can really trace a genealogy of Sirius. He was meticulous, right? You talked about Baerwolf we were talking last time when we were talking about orcs and possible connections. There you see how well thought out his world is a structure as you see where these certain ideas and strands tropes and themes, but he's not playing with them hazardously meticulously stories. And then now with everything that's come since the publishing of Lord of the Rings from Christopher Tolkin with all of the history of middle earth showing how painstakingly he was developing these ideas. And so I think it's is, it's much easier now that you can see all of the what's off camera, off the page. You see how much effort, energy, and really a work of genius that it took to put all of this together and went into this. So I think that's helped to open up, like you said the minds of people to taking this seriously is something that deserves to be studied as a work of art, a work of literature, and a work of cultural significance. I think it's no mistake that he and CS Lewis were both medievalists and in Taki's case earlier, because when you think of the great sect text in those periods, they're fantasy works. So Beir Wolff we've talked about which is a Literative poem siguen in the Green Knight, another all Literative poem. But Mallory, who we don't talk about very much in context of talking, but it should be in there because in a way, Mallory, with his Asurian more cycle he is doing the closest thing to the world building of talking because the background to Mallory's work is a whole series of stories about Arthur from all sorts of sources going back many centuries before to over in France and so on. And he's sort of building a thread through that. That's his art Syrian cycle. And it's in prose, so not as, I wouldn't call it a novel, but it's story is written in prose. And then at the end of the medieval period going into the Renaissance period, you've got the fairy queen, which is a massive work by Spencer, which is an allegorical telling, but obviously the ferry queen. It's the world of fairy with knights and quests and all sorts of stories. So these are the works that were being studied. And it's only when you move on from that, the fantasy as the genre sort of drops out a little bit though obviously you can say that some of Shakespeare's greatest plays a fantasy. But I'm thinking further on. So you've got gala's travels, I suppose pilgrim's progress though that's sort of allegorical, but it's got giants and things in it. And then you get to the world of the novel and the popular novels from the 18th century onwards tended to be ones which are like peregrinations travel ones sort of Humphrey clinker, that kind of thing, small it, or you've got the epi novel like Samuel Richardson, or you've got Jane Austin, or you've got historical novels. I'm sort of going forward in time here. Walter Scott, and then you got Charles Dickens, George Elliot, you, there isn't a big fantasy work there and fantasy that pops up in the Victorian period is either something like the wonderful Alice Wonderland or you've got ones who are verging into the sort of sci-fi area towards the end of that period which is things like HG Wells, though I would admit there is the gothic around. But that's sort of horror Frankenstein. I mean they are fantasy, but they're sort of in a slightly different bracket in my head, I think. So people who were teaching literary courses and were thinking that the way to go is Ulysses and Virginia Wolff and all these sorts of not found the idea of it being fantasy somehow, like fairy stories, children's stuff. And that's where it sort of fell away. Whereas if you're spending all your academic life teaching the fairy queen Bear Wolff going in the Green Night, the Morar and so on, it felt totally natural to think that modern fantasy writing could have literary value. So I think it's no mistake that it was CS Lewis who refounded his form of portal fantasy and Toki who founded a sort of new version of a creation of a world fantasy which he took seriously. Toki took his world incredibly seriously. He knew it was a game. So I'm not saying he was humorous, he knew it was one enormous, wonderful, delightful game exercise of the imagination. But he also took that seriously because there's nothing more serious than play. Yeah. Chester, can I tell you that? Yeah, yeah. So we should do one of these on GK Chesterton. I must find a Chessen expert because I know don't know enough about him, and I know he was a huge influence. So looking at, I think that I'm very pleased to say 50 years on from the moment when Toki died, where his work was kind of slightly embarrassing for academia. Now, if you say, as a student I'd like to do a dissertation on Toki, they'll say, oh yes, whi, which aspect do you want to do it on? They won't say, oh, go away. They'll be interested. And there are some fantastic academic books written about Toki papers and so on, including your own Jacob that people can read to open that up in an academic sense, what is for you what academic aspects of Toki have you followed? What's been the willow whisper that you've followed across this particular marsh? For me, in part like mythology myth building, myth making that talking is engaged with for me, what is fasting? The development, the of a cosmology, right? And so part of my academic training is in world mythologies and in different versions of different myths from each of these different cultures, different eras and different languages. And so there's real affinities that I see with how Toki is developing his cosmology with his his birth of the world. Putting that into conversation with some of these world world myths is, for me, very, very enlightening. Helps to highlight different things that make both tolkin stand out and some of these other world myths appreciate different aspects of them. So he put so much thought effort, revisions approach 'em from different angles that it's a worthy conversation, partner to myths that have been around for thousands and thousands of years. So for me, that's part of his is kind of putting into conversation, having Tolkien as a conversation partner with world myths and what he's doing. So that's one of the things that captured me and got me into academic engagement with Tolkien in particular. And I think that's one of the wonderful things about the richness of the material is that you can take it into you can look at it in a linguistic aspect. You can look at its theology, you can look at its well building, you can look at it, its themes. You can look at its relationship to ecocriticism. I mean, it's so rich. And so the fact that people didn't see that and thought it was just a fantasy story back in the eighties is that's a real improvement. And so 50 years on, we can celebrate that we've matured as judges of talking's work, which is good. So thinking about now talking is hot property. No one's going to make a fortune out of writing an academic paper on Toki. I'm sorry, Jacob. That's not where the money lies. Yeah. So Toki now has become a property that has value for the world of film and television. So we, we've have previously discussed things like the Rings of power, the Peter Jackson films and so on. But should we look a little bit wider than that and see what else owes its existence to, they're having been talking because I think a lot of the big stocking, big fantasy series do actually owe their existence to, they're having been talking to start with. And so I'm looking at you Wheel of time the Witcher what else is there? Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones To see. Yeah, house of the Dragon. So I think all of these exist because the Peter Jackson films were a success. If we rerun history and the Fellowship of the Ring was panned that they did animation that was just no good. That special effects were rubbish. Any of the cast was unwatchable. All the things that could have gone wrong. Peter Jackson turned out to be a terrible director I think would not, would not have had this. Cause I think it's different from the Harry Potter things that come along. I think there's a whole strain of fantasy films of Harry Potter esque aspect, which follow on all the ones set in schools. Is it The Magicians, that one, which is a high school version. And even something like Wednesday the new is that Netflix series. These all seem much more like sons and daughters of Harry Potter whereas the big epic fantasy ones seem to owe their existence to tol. I think that's probably why they're there. But do you think they're right thinking that Talking's made away? Because I haven't seen these things being asuc as successful Game of Thrones was because I'd say that was a kind of bleaker Lord of the Rings. It's like, yeah, Lord of the Rings with Byzantine politics,, right? Or more Yes Lord of the Rings run by the Borsk. Something like that, Isn't it? Yes. Yeah. Plus seasonal depression. Yeah. Yeah. Really interesting because I remember having a conversation with somebody it was pretty soon after Game of Thrones came out talking about Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, kind of putting those in conversation with each other with a student who was just noticing us to tonally that Game of Thrones was watching it. That seemed like it was kind of a one time watching for him. He's like, yeah, I like to enjoyed it. I'm not going to watch it again. Whereas with the Lord of the Rings film, it was one that for him, it was palatable that the tone, everything, it was something that bore multiple watches. So I think, yeah, there's something about the type of show that while the Game of Thrones tells a particular type of story and a particular type of approach to life, I don't know that people want to be having that on repeat all of the time and just watching that and those particular lessons, what you learn about humanity and part in particular, the negative part of humanity or, that if that's what you want reinforced. I think part of what Toki does is while there is certainly you see people who are corrupted and you see traitors, and especially in the Sian, right? You see some people that some true tragedies happen. That there is still this kind of undergirding idea of hope. There's some strand of hope that comes through even in though you facing this long decline that the world is actually ending. But yet there's something here that is hopeful, that is pulling through this kind of sweetness, intermingled with the sorrow, which goes back to takin's cosmology and the creation of the world itself. So I think that is important and sets it apart from a lot of these other works. I think it's the star, the Lady Glad's gift Toro, that the book feels like that it's shining bright in the darkness. You can bring it out and make it shine. Funnily enough of today, I was doing a school visit about my books to do an assembly style event. And part of what I do is I create stories with the children and they have a cards they can select. They can't see what they're selecting. So it's a random selection thing. And then asked them which story they like best. And one of them had a bittersweet ending that was one of the endings that was selected. And one boy chose that as his favorite story. And I said, why did you like that story? And he said, I like endings that don't feel too happy. There's something in us that it's fine to watch the wedding bells sort of ending. But I think there is a recognition that, we're all going to die. There is an element where it feels closer to a lived experience, even though it's a fantasy world where there is this sadness within the happiness, but also a sense of redemption about that the idea that sacrifice isn't wasted, photos, sacrifice is worth it even though it's personally costly. And that's all that is really the most profoundest parts of life. And that's why people rewatch, I'm sure, because it reaffirms some of those hopes that we have for the meaning of our existence. It sounds very serious, but that is reallythe value I get from Lord of the Rings and many other people do. Yeah, we've talked about the sort of film and tv. Well, but we mustn't forget. I mean a huge, even bigger, way bigger actually in terms of monetary value is the games and video games aspect of this. Now, I'm not a great game player, but when my kids were growing up, we did have the PlayStation verse games of Lord of the Rings. There was a very good sort of EA games or somebody came out with a sort of playable version of it. And I had just enjoyed running around in the landscapes that they were created. And this is way back in the two thousands. So I'm sure now it's far better, far more sophisticated. I'm just not very good at that kind of thing. I just don't want to spend hours to learn it. But I know a lot of people get a lot of value out of that. Are you Jacob a secret gamer More? Yeah, so I'm a story gamer in that I played games. I don't like getting bogged down in mechanics and things that it's mostly follow games that have good solid stories and character develops and that sort of thing. So that those sorts of games I like. So role playing games, those video games that are kind of the R PPG realms sometimes are a bit difficult because there's a lot ofspecifics, a lot of points and math that you have to do in those. And that isn't as interesting to me as the core of the story. But I understand, I recognize and I tried, what I, I think is Leg Legend of Zelda, the original game when we first came out with for Nintendo, I know that the writers of the first two games were big Tolkin fans, and that was kind of creating this kind of questing fairytale but the most recent open world game, the breadth of the wild the legend, fellow breath of the wild, massive, beautiful world. I don't think something like that would be possible without Toki really, in a sense. So he kind of laid this foundation of world building and what that can do. And I know I was talking with somebody at Netflix a few days ago that's in their spectacle and event television programming. So they're dealing with the big budget things like Stranger Things like Wednesday Shadow and Bone On, oh yes, Netflix, another one of these. So these are big budget. They recognize that there needs to be a large canvas and a large backdrop. And so they're looking for works that lend themselves well to beautiful visuals, sweeping landscapes, these ideas that are really capturing people's imaginations visually and the world itself. So politically whatever's happening there. So I think that that's certainly the same here for these video games in that I think the popularity of open World games where you just want to get into and explore a world, not necessarily just follow a quest and you have a linear start here, go here and here's the conclusion. But the open World games is really fascinating because it gives players a chance to just run around and live as if they're in this world. And I know that there's some anticipation and mixed feelings by some about the game that's coming out about the Hogwarts legacy. Yes, that's an open world game. So this is an opportunity for people to get into Hogwarts and really, really get there, walk around, experience it, touch it, taste it in a sense In a video game sense, In a video game, in a video game sense, the theme parks are a different thing, which I think there could be some connection there with. That's a different type of world building and experience. But in the video games that allows you to do more things. Soallows you to fight that aren't probably going to be doing to the same degree in your neighborhood. I hope you're not encouraging. That would actually discourage sword fighting, spell casting, where you're actually inflicting bodily harm on other people. Yes. Do it in a good video game. Yeah, Right. Do it in a video game, get it out of your system. But I think that what Toki did was he invited people into this world. That's why you have people kind of dressing up these communes they're that you were talking about earlier. They want to step into and live this in some way, shape or form. They want to be a part of it. And video games is an excellent way for people to get into that mindset, that kind of immersive storytelling experience. And reminds me of I mean clearly it's probably something to do with the rights because I'm, someone would've tried this, but we've got the Harry Potter world over in is Atlanta, isn't it? And in this country we got the Harry Potter Studios experience. So extensions you go and visit, which is close to that visual experience. The one obviously is about making the film rather than a world that you enter and no one's done the talking world unless you can argue the entirety of New Zealand. Is that right? Yeah. I remember living in Oxford that we were thinking, oh well let's repurpose Paul Meadow and turn it into world and what would you put in it? You'd have Memorial dungeon experience and Yeah, but of course I don't think it works because the scale, whereas Hogwarts is this little, they're little, there are little littler sets like Diagon Alley. It does feel more theme parky than saying we're going to build La Laurian. It would just not work. It'd be Earth that it would be, it would not feel, yeah, it wouldn't have the au authenticity, which actually makes us all believe that somewhere middle earth exists. So I don't think it, anyway, if someone is planning talking, well let me know and I, I'll go and visit, but I don't think I'd like it. Yeah, I'd love to hear, Julia your thoughts on fantasy genre since Toki, the kind of echoes ramifications things that you've seen people do well and the kind of positive implications of Toki 50 Years on. So it is interesting that fantasy so my writing career began in 2006, and actually the dominant fantasy genre there was Harry Potter. It brought a lot of money into fantasy publishing. I mean, that's just the economics of it had changed. And the other big books around at the same time was the Philip Pullman Northern Lights, both of whom you can see I'm sure JK Rowling read talking. And it's things like the spiders that kind of thing feels as though there is an element of, she's enjoyed the keen fantasy world, but she's actually harking much more to the school story than she is the fantasy story, the sort of worst witch kind of story that already existed. So I think what you see there in fantasies, there's this, it's ongoing mixing in of ingredients, folding in, coming up with something new talking called it the Cauldron story. So each time there's a sort of scoop in and it's serving. But you can see in the sort of adult fantasy books that were published that there was an expectation of long big series. Just the fact that it was quite fine to turn up with something that was a hundred thousand words long. And in three volumes, he made space for that in a way that, I dunno if that's good or bad, long form is not always good. But it did sort of open that out as an expectation and changed how fantasy publishers thought about things. So I remember reading things like the Stephen Donnelson Chronicles of Thomas Covenants, those ones which felt very elements of Toki were creeping in. And the chronicles of it's very toki named P Peor about a girl who's a slave who rises up. And that's, I'm trying to think of the name of the author of those but there are quite a few books that feel very close to Toki and of course Aragon which is very, very close. So clearly there was a bit of a strangleholdof Toki in everyone's imagination. And it's quite hard to break away from that because if you get such a dominant present like that, if you are trying to think up a woodland realm, even just saying woodland realm, everyone thinks, oh, you're talking about Elms and you're talking. So it has been called the anxiety of influence, hasn't it by TS Elliott there? I think that was going on. Have we got through that possibly? I think it's just a question of folding the material in better. So Christopher Harini has come back and written more books. He won't be writing like he did at 16 or 17 whenever he wrote those books. People. And I think now what you see in a lot of fantasy writing is a picking up the theme of worry about the environment, which Toki obviously has with the s and sermon. So he's way out in front of people worrying about this. But you very rarely now read a fantasy series without the environment being really the major threat. It's there as a major theme as it should be because it is the problem of our times. But I think one of the problems we've got with talking is he was so brilliant at creating his whole world building languages and what have you, that if somebody else does that, do we have the patience to give them the serious attention that we give talking it be interesting. Do you think? Think. Yeah, I think I think this is what I see with Patrick Rothfus in the name of the Wind Yes. In that series. So he's clearly, and he's recognized this, right? So he loves Tolkin and so he wants to be as careful and precise as possible in his world, building use of language, geography and that. And what that's done from, unfortunately from a consumer's perspective is they want, I need this book now. So I read this one, I need the next one. So they want volume. And so folks waiting yes, for so long for the next installment. And you have something similar happening with George Art Martin in the Game of Thrones for the next book there. But particularly I think with Name of the Wind I think it's more the Patrick Rothfus, is he understands the seriousness with which people are approaching his work. And because he said like, I am being serious about this, and so people are taking it seriously. And so now it's kind of reflexive and he's saying, oh, people are going to be taking this seriously. I need to make sure it's airtight. And so there might be some anxiety of his own influence in a sense of setting up this. I hear set the bar this high with the first book, and I want to continue this story. I have to ensure that the quality of the second book is at least as good as this and thought through. And that everything has to be perfectly internally consistent with this world. So I think what Toki did unintentionally is he set a standard for the crafting of stories that now for some people it's good and bad. Two-edged sword, that it makes people more self-aware of how they're approaching the world building process. And people, audience readers of these books are paying more attention to that sort of thing. But at the same time, it's making it sometimes perhaps unnecessarily difficult for certain authors who are spending far longer in this sort of process than perhaps they need or even want to tell the story that they want to tell. They feel obligated to flesh out and create an entire family tree of languages before. No, no. I get into writing. So we teach creative writing at the Oxford Center for Fantasy, and we very much encourage fantasy writers to come. Cause we understand that urge and I, I've got students who are doing this and the difficulty is moving away from that to actually write the story. So you don't want the silver and you want Lord of the Rings in that sort of order for someone to read it. Well, yeah, discuss. Yeah. And I think think to Tolkien, what he was interested in doing was creating a world, and there were stories that existed within this world. And so that's why world building was so important for him because he wasn't just concerned about one particular story that he wanted to tell, unless it was the story of creation as a whole. That was the overarching story. But he said he wanted to create essentially a canvas that other hand, it was broad enough that other hands and minds could connect so that he was wanting to create his words were a body of more or less connected legend that were linked into a majestic hole. But it would be big enough to leave scope for other minds and hands to do it. And not just in written form. But Tolkien said that initially his grand vision that other people would come in with he said welding paint and music and drama. So that this is something that's big enough to capture multiple art forms. But for writers, that's not necessarily what they're about. It's the telling of Ace a particular story or a self-contained story or a series of stories and not necessarily creating an entire canvas that people could explore, not just in prose, but in poetry and in art and in music. And that's I think one of The things that sets that's, that's absolutely wonderful and we exactly why we set up the center to encourage all those forms of creativity. But actually your question was really baby think that. I think where it's gone, this world building is to collective efforts like the world of Star Trek. So that's quite serious about things like learning cling on and having languages and timelines and multiple timelines. And obviously it's somebody somewhere is keeping the Star Trek bible of events so that we, it's all straight, but people say, oh, we're not just going to have a sort of funny old language which could be inconsistent. No, we're going to have a structured language which is playing on which is going to be this. And I don't think you'd get that without talking. And over in the Marvel universe you've got similar sort of seriousness to the whole, the cartoon the MCC comic version. And there's a very seriousness to looking at it as an encyclopedia of characters and different stories and different versions of stories and the experts in those universities. No, exactly where they are and what they're doing. And I think the Marvel universe is huge. Yeah, no, you see that in the films especially. And I think you're right that you have different stories that are connecting together to make a larger story. So you have an overarching story with smaller stories. And that's not unique to Toki in particular. But I think definitely you're right that you would wouldn't necessarily get the care of crafting all of these different pieces in something large and is sweeping and cinematic. And you might even see it more so in Star Wars in the state of Star Star Wars. Star Wars, star Wars. Because you have both all these books and comics and video games and films and television series. And they all have to be coordinated now and then which ones are seen as being canonical versus, and at what point does is something considered canon. And then you have things like the Disney acquisition that kind of throws everything into chaos. But people are paying attention to all of these different things and keeping them straight and seeing it as one consistent, coherent whole. And that's, I think absolutely kind of an echo or an inheritance or a legacy of Toki and the care with which he was putting together an entire world with multiple stories, characters spanning eons,of time. And I think is wonderful. So I think probably just to sum up this discussion that really looking at talking 50 years on, I think whilst maintaining the whole sort of wonderful creativity and playfulness of what he's done, is that he's also taught us all that it's fine to be serious about fantasy. That it's something that everyone can share. So that I think it's a way that it brings people together. We can all share it and have fun with that fantasy. And I think that's his real legacy. Cause that sort of sums up what we've been talking about in academia in the sort of literary world in the extension through a games. And that seems to be what's lying at the heart of his success. And I'd think what I'd add to that is it, it's truly mythic what he's doing. And in part of that, like in myth, there's a myth almost in a sense requires belief in it. You have to buy into it, you have to a suspension of disbelief, which is stated positively, belief. So you have to go in with the possibility of belief, right, with the risk the hazard of belief. And he genuinely believed in his world, he saw what he was doing as being real and as having some real lasting value that at the act of sub creation as being valuable in and of itself. So in Mie, his poem, he statesthat these are things these works, these ideas they, they're enduring and he believes they could continue to endure and take on more greater life in some way, shape or form. But the scope and scale, I evident, no, I'm going to take it back. The quality of what he's doing is mythic, right? And so in Lewis's review of Fellowship of the Rings he's talking about how people are receiving it and Lewis says what shows we are reading myth, not allegory with direct kind of one-to-one comparison is that there are no pointers to specifically theological or political or psychological application, a myth points for each reader to the realm he lives in most. It is a master key. Use it on what door you like. So Toki didn't have a specific point necessarily. He was trying to make, he's dealing with the fundamental human experience and did so in such a significant and poignant way that anybody, no matter where you are, that could find some point of relevance, it could resonate in some way. And so he thought about it and cared about it and believed in the life that he was living. I think that he appreciated his own world. You read his letters, there's significant overlap between what he believes his religious life his political life, his life is an environmentalist in a sense. Yes. All these things he believed and cared about deeply. And so he took that care that he had for life and put that into his writing. And so because of that deep belief that he has in the world that he was living in, I think that's what makes it so powerful and relevant. He wasn't just putting on shows what's going to convince people that what's going to keep people reading or, should I put in a plot twist here? Yeah. Do I need a act break or whatever. He's, he's more concerned about what are these, How does history unfold?, right? No, no, exactly. Right. And what do humans do? What does the human story? And really, because he really cared about that and put that into that, that was the bedrock of his writings and his characters and everything that that's what I think has allowed it to endure so long and have such a lasting impact on the world of health. And that's actually another very helpful insight into the impact of Lord the Rings is from Aden, the poet Aden, who was one of the early reviewers. And he sums up what you were just saying, really. He says, to begin with, no previous writer has, to my knowledge, created an imaginary world and a feigned history in such detail. But it is a world of intelligible law, not mere wish. The reader's sense of the credible is never violated. So I think that's what sums it up, that it basically feels real talking has been the sub creator that he was aspiring to be. So even though the world just exists in our imagination, it's as real as anything like that can be. And certainly for me as a writer, so taking this down to the personal level, I don't think I would be a writer today if I hadn't read talking because I wanted to do that. I wanted that is that first to do that? I thought, wow, you did that. I want to do that. I don't do it in the same way as him at all, but he is the inspiration that I want to follow. So I'm very pleased that he joined us on the earth for the length of time he did. What about you? Is that something that, are you inspired to be creative as a result of reading, talking? Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. In my own writing that's hovering in the background. And I think what, for me showing that the people that exist in whatever fantasy world that you have they have beliefs like Toki himself had certain beliefs. And so you see what the elves believe, what the ORs believe, what, Melkor believes any of the other, I know INR believe and you see that shapes their world, how they act as well. And so that's something that's kind of constantly as I'm like, they're not, this isn't just, they're what they're doing, it's what they're thinking about. They're that's kind of going on in people's minds and the background in creating that. So what is the world? What are their thoughts? What's their worldview? That's something that has definitely stuck with me in my own writing. Thank you. And so to finish, we have two things we do. One is where in all the fantasy worlds is the best place for something, and then we have a tip. So we've been talking about talking 50 years on almost from the day he died. So I was thinking where in all the fantasy world is the best place to be talking, thinking about him as a professor of languages and literature. So if you had a little professorial character sitting in one of these fantasy worlds, what would be a good place to be do you think? The tweedy gentleman who smokes a pipe, where would you take it? Well, when, I don't know if the jacket would work as well, but in the same world I mentioned Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfus. Oh yes. The school University System there. So it's a university. And so thinking about that university setting and not just university setting, but where language is directly tied to magic, where Tolkien's use of language, he would be able to work different types of magic than he already has in the pros and worlds that he built. I think that would probably enjoy that. That's a very good shout. I was thinking of RINs with the diversity world, which again but I came down to thinking actually that he would fit in very well in Jonathan Stranger, Mr. Norrel, the Susanna Clark. I think he'd feel quite at home in one of the arcane university rooms there.The practical magicians. Yeah, I think I could see him fitting in very well and actually not noticing much difference. It is a bit like Oxford. And what about a tip? Have you got a tip to share with us? Yeah. Looking at Tolkien's life as a whole one of the things that I've done, I can't blame my parents for this, for not raising me from the youngest of age letting me know who Tolkin was and what he made. But I have learned from them. And so one of the first books I've been reading to my little son is called John Ronald's Dragons. Okay. It's a children's book. Are you familiar with that? No, it sounds wonderful. Yeah. So it's Carolyn McAllister and Eliza Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Gorgeous illustrations. It's a book about Tolkien's young life. Just so the page art here you can see just the style you see Toki. It's basically taking him through his childhood about how he loved dragons, how his mother read him stories and how he's looking for dragons in the world around him. And he's not quite finding those. He's looking for them at school. He is making up languages and he's exploring finds different bits and pieces in the environment. At church, he finds, not dragons, but different parts of things. And in war he finds different things that aren't quite dragons, tanks that are belching flames. But then later as he's a professor, he writes in a hole in the ground, lived a hobbit then. So he talks about his Bilbo and how Bilbo is the one that actually leads him to find the dragon that he was looking for. Since he was a child, and so it's a sweet, That's not absolutely charming. Tell us the title of that again. Yeah, So this is John Ronalds Dragons by Carolyn McAllister, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. And It's actually, it's well researched. So you have, and there's an author's note that has full kind of one page biography of Tolkien the illustrator's note. She notes all of the different historical references that she's included like the different colored fairy books that Toki Use. Oh yes. The She's including those, right. And different things, languages that are kind of callbacks. Easter eggs are actually spelled out here in the illustrator's note. There's a bibliography at the end for more A picture book. That's pretty hard Though. A picture book, right? So it's right. But the kids aren't reading this part. But you are. Yeah, but I am so for the parent and the other adult. So there's something for everyone, but it's just a sweet story. And my son knows who John Ronald is, and we talk about him sometimes and he knows who SMG is because he is here in the book. And we talk about that. Yeah. My tip is for those of you who want to share your love of Tolkien and what he's brought to your life and your imagination that book John Ronald's Dragons, is a great way to introduce that to younger readers and minds. We must invite 'em on the podcast. That sounds fabulous. So my tip, is it January now or early February and you may be thinking about getting fit. So my children who are all grown up have given my husband this app, which is a walking app, which maps the number of steps you do onto the journey of the fellowship. And the first installment is you walk from Hobbiton to Brie. Now this is all very well, but actually the map they give isn't terribly detailed. So the perfect it's, it is nice, but it's not as good as my old favorite book, which I have on my shelf, which is The Journeys of Frodo by Barbara. So my top tip is if you're going to do this walking app, marry it by we are following the Journeys in Barbara's wonderful book where she has done a wonderful, everything's on there where they stop for lunch, where they meet the black rider. And it really helps, if ever you've been confused reading Lord of the Rings, exactly where Brie is in relation to Archie and all that kind of thing. Just look at her maps. She's done a wonderful job. So my top tip, if you want to get Fit Walk to Brie or eventually Toor but have alongside the journeys of Frodo book, which is I think still in print, but it's a real assistance when you're reading Lord the Rings as well. So Jacob, thank you so much. I'm sure we'll be talking again about the 50th anniversary of Tolkien's death, but I just wanted to start the year by having an over overview of where we've reached in 2023. So thank you very much. Thanks for listening to Mythmakers podcast, brought to you by the Oxford Center for Fantasy. 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