Re-Commendation: This Video Essay About Tolkien

Tolkien did a WHOLE LOT of living, and here’s how that influenced his writing.

Perhaps somewhat ironically given that one of my long-term goals is to start an audio drama podcast, I’m not big on podcasts or long-form videos talking at me about something.

That being said, I was pleasantly surprised when I happened upon this video last spring:

Especially because Rings of Power is one the two major big-budget Fantasy shows currently looming large over Pop Culture and especially because the biggest criticism surrounding Rings of Power are insistent but fairly vague cries of “But it’s not like Tolkien!”, I think it’s worth revisiting this video.

Look, I don’t really want to wade into the online rhetorical slap fight that is the “It’s not like Tolkien” debate — especially because, like I said in my original post about Rings of Power, Amazon necessarily has to invent stuff do to how little beyond the bare details is present in the stuff that Amazon actually has the rights to and is actually relevant to the story they’re telling.

Now, that being said, Tolkien did focus on certain themes and ideas in his writing and this video does a pretty job of encapsulating what those themes are.

So, while I myself am fairly noncommittal on “It’s not like Tolkien!”, here’s a good look into what is like Tolkien and a decent chance for you to make up your own mind based on something a little more credible than people whinging on the Internet.

The Suttoon Hoo Helmet, currently housed at the British Museum.
The Sutton Hoo Helmet, one of the
most famous Anglo-Saxon artifacts.
Currently housed at the British Museum. Image via Wikipedia.
Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

The video is amazingly insightful for something that’s only 13 minutes long and does an amazing job explaining both Tolkien’s influences in general, and how Lord of the Rings is basically the Anglo-Saxon poem The Wanderer extended to 1200 pages.

One line in particular stuck with me, the idea that Tolkien’s works, despite being masterpieces of Fantasy, feel so real because “Tolkien had a higher dosage of reality than most of us”.

And, yeah, Tolkien did a whole lot of living.

Heck, his real life biography is more interesting than plenty of fictional characters living in larger-than-life Fantasy worlds. His dad died when he was a toddler, his mom got effectively disowned by her family for converting to Catholicism and then died when Tolkien was 12, he wasn’t allowed to have any contact with the woman who was essentially his one true love (and, incidentally, the reason why the most beautiful women in Middle-earth have black hair and grey eyes) until he turned 21, he almost died in World War I, most of his friends did die, and then he went on to become an influential Oxford scholar, plus, you know, the whole Lord of the Rings thing…

Also, he stole a bus once.

A red double-decker bus.
Yeah, but the bus probably had it coming.
Photo by Oleg Magni on

Now, that’s not really laid out in the video, but the fact that Tolkien can write the human (or Elf or Hobbit, as the case may be…) condition so well is because he had first-hand experience with most of the human condition is.

Mostly, it’s pain.

And that gets tied back into The Wanderer basically being the quintessential Anglo-Saxon statement on the human condition.

So, yeah, watch the video. It’s great and I’m not gonna lie, it made me tear up a little. And, if you’re curious about what else Empire of the Mind has going on, you can find more here, here, and here.

And, if you’re interested in watching a pretty decent movie version of all the living Tolkien did, check out my recommendation of the movie Tolkien:

And my other recommendations are here, and you can follow me various ways here:

Sign-up for my email newsletter here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s