Recommendation: A Video Essay About Tolkien

“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.”

Looking over my recommendations, I think this one is the one I’ve reposted least frequently, likely in part because it’s probably the most incongruous. It’s not really about Pop Culture, it’s about a video that is itself about Pop Culture.

So, all in all, it’s maybe a bit of a weird sell.


I’d like to think I’ve made my feelings about J.R.R. Tolkien — the initials, of course standing for “John Ronald Reuel”; “Jonald” to his friends — quite exceedingly clear.

Basically: this.
Photo by Donald Tong on

And, since the film trilogy based on his books is one of the greatest cinematic achievements of the 21st century, or ever, for that matter (Return of the King won all the Oscars), it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that I’ve been watching a bunch of clips from said movies, or that I’m getting a lot of Lord of the Rings-related recommendations on Youtube.

Now, I don’t usually like podcasts or video essays for two primary reasons: most Internet personalities come across as complete and utter tools —

Basically: this, but metaphorical.
Photo by Anete Lusina on

— and I learn better in writing. I retain things I read better than things I hear, and most simply, I can read faster than you can talk at me.

Basically, all of this is to establish that I was pleasantly surprised by this video from a Youtube channel called Empire of the Mind

So, at this point, you’ve either watched or skipped the video itself. So, here’s some of my thoughts on said video.

The video itself snuck up on me outta nowhere.

Not unlike a certain Randal Keith Orton

Sorry for embedding two YouTube videos so close together, buy my old embed stopped working…

But I figured “Hey, I like Lord of the Rings. I like Anglo-Saxon poetry. Let’s give it a shot.”

And, yeah, I’m still not sold on podcasts and video essays in general, but I liked this one. A lot.

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.
Reproduced under the Creative Commons
Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

It’s 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.


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