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New J.R.R. Tolkien Biopic Delves into the Mind of the Man Behind Middle Earth

Steve Palace
J.R.R. Tolkien. Getty Images
J.R.R. Tolkien. Getty Images

A teaser trailer for eagerly-awaited biopic Tolkien has been released, with Nicholas Hoult cast as the young author J.R.R. Tolkien, who went on to create the all-conquering Lord Of The Rings saga.

Directed by Dome Karukoski (Tom of Finland) and co-starring Lily Collins as Tolkien’s future wife Edith Bratt, the production promises to delve into the mind of a true literary phenomenon.

Dome Karukoski. Photo by Peltimikko CC BY-SA 3.0

Dome Karukoski. Photo by Peltimikko CC BY-SA 3.0

With Peter Jackson’s six Middle Earth films and a TV series in development, it’s hoped audiences will want to know about the man behind the legend. The adventures of Bilbo, Frodo and friends were shaped by his experiences, both good and bad.

Movieweb writes “We’ll see how both his high school experiences and his terrifying participation in the first world war shaped and formed this expansive and epic narrative that is still being studied and dissected by professors to this day.”

Ian McKellen in Lord of The Rings. Photo by Getty Images

Ian McKellen in Lord of The Rings. Photo by Getty Images

A 1968 Telegraph piece stated, “With the Lancashire Fusiliers on the Somme, he saw tattered and burnt-out landscapes which find unearthly echoes in the Ring.”

One group who are more than a little intrigued are Tolkien’s army of admirers. He’s picked up millions over the years, and like any fanbase they have their opinions on what works and what doesn’t.

Tolkien, 1916

Tolkien, 1916

While Movieweb believes Tolkien “promises to be a nice companion piece to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies,” others are looking at things in more detail.

Website Tor.com thinks the story should be about what made Tolkien the everyday man tick as much as the wondrous images he created. “J.R.R. Tolkien was a man of good humor, but it was his imagination that was vast — not a life of adventure.”

1892 Christmas card with a coloured photo of the Tolkien family in Bloemfontein, sent to relatives in Birmingham, England

1892 Christmas card with a coloured photo of the Tolkien family in Bloemfontein, sent to relatives in Birmingham, England

Tor.com acknowledges the balancing act required of Karukoski, and screenwriters David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford, in order to satisfy both aficionados and casual viewers.

It says, “all Tolkien-related media ought to be considered with a certain level of apprehension… Even the best of Jackson’s adaptations p***** off book purists (which I am not; I loved them), so the bar should be placed…if not low, at least reasonably low-ish… if it disappoints, well… no big surprise.”

Edith (Bratt) Tolkien

Edith (Bratt) Tolkien

One element the film appears to depict is the “fellowship” between the young Tolkien and his friends from King Edward’s School in Birmingham, a group known as T.C.B.S (Tea Club, Barrovian Society). They are seen as a forerunner of the famous Inklings, where Tolkien rubbed shoulders with the likes of C.S. Lewis.

It’s also hoped that the movie will refer to his deeply-held Roman Catholic faith, in an age where religion isn’t necessarily seen as a major box office draw. Colm Meaney (Star Trek) is present as Father Francis Morgan.

Talking to The Telegraph, the then-Professor Tolkien said “Of course God is in The Lord of the Rings…. The book is about the world that God created – the actual world of this planet.”

J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy trilogy The Lord of the Rings, which includes The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. These paperback editions were published by HarperCollins Publishers in 1999.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy trilogy The Lord of the Rings, which includes The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. These paperback editions were published by HarperCollins Publishers in 1999.

However he also pointed out “The book… is not about anything but itself. It has no allegorical intentions, topical, moral, religious or political. It is not about modern wars or H-bombs, and my villain is not Hitler.”

This ties into the thorny topic of making Middle Earth stories which appeal to the modern day. Jackson certainly delivered, though an animated version from Ralph Bakshi in 1978 got a mixed reception.

Tolkien wasn’t keen on adaptations. He refused to let The Beatles film Lord Of The Rings with Stanley Kubrick in the Sixties. As relayed by The Telegraph, “‘Please,’ wrote a 17-year-old girl, ‘don’t let them make a movie out of your Ring. It would be like putting Disneyland into the Grand Canyon.’”

His verdict on Jackson, who before was known for directing gory horror movies like Braindead (1992), is impossible to know.

Read another story from us: A remarkable pair of letters from Tolkien to Mary Fairburn, an artist who sent him several scenes from “Lord of the Rings,” sold at an auction 

The outcome for Tolkien the biopic depends on two factors — how it satisfies his readers and how it grabs the viewers. It could well prove too difficult a task — but if Bilbo can defeat the mighty fire-breathing Smaug, then anything is possible.

Tolkien is released on May 10th from Fox Searchlight Pictures.

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