With the impending release of the movie The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, we thought it would be fun to interview Emil Johansson about his fansite LOTRproject and his recent collaboration with me to create Six Degrees of Sauron.
Henry: It is no exaggeration to characterize you as a Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fanatic. What is it about those books that so appeals to you?
Emil: I think The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were the first books I read that really stimulated my imagination. There is such a vast world in Tolkien’s book, it almost seems real, but there’s still enough left out to make it mysterious. I also guess I was somewhat a daydreamer when I was a child, and I always imagined being part of some adventure.
Henry: I started reading The Lord of the Rings in fifth grade, and never looked back. You host the LOTRproject Tolkien fansite. Please tell us about that.
Emil: LOTRproject is a personal project that allows me to design interactive projects for exploring Middle-earth. I could say it is what I have always wanted to do. The site started out as only a family tree of characters from Tolkien’s work. Since then it has grown to become something much larger. The main mission of the project is to encourage people to explore Middle-earth.
Henry: As Elrond tells Aragorn, “Be who you were born to be!” Emil is being modest when he says “ONLY a family tree of characters from Tolkien’s work.”
Your latest LOTRproject effort is called Six Degrees of Sauron. How did that come about and what is it?
Emil: Trick question: it was you who first suggested the idea. I had just been working on analyzing networks between characters in The Lord of the Rings, and it seemed like a nice challenge to make it work. Six Degrees of Sauron is like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon meets Middle-earth. You can enter any two characters from The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, or The Silmarillion, and the application displays the string of connections showing how they are connected.
It has been a very rewarding collaboration between the two of us and the result is far better than I imagined. I think collaborative projects are something I will do a lot more of in the future.
Henry: Emil’s right – I am awesome. Seriously though, aside from Six Degrees of Sauron, what are some other features of LOTRproject?
Emil: There is the core of the site, the family tree. There is also a interactive map of Middle-earth, geospatial timelines of the history of Middle-earth, and some statistics. The statistics were derived from the family tree and gave some fascinating numbers on average lifespan of Hobbits, Dwarves and Men. Average lifespan of a Hobbit is 96.8 士 2.4 years with a confidence level of 95% and a standard deviation of 10.6 years. I also created a page which allows you to see the frequency of character mentions in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.
Henry: LOTRproject also features fun infographics, such as a flowchart for figuring out which dwarf in The Hobbit you are viewing based on his facial hair.
By movie-making necessity, the cinematic versions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit differ in some ways from the written works. How do you feel about that?
Emil: My opinion is that they have the freedom to make an adaption the way he wants, to a certain extent. I should say there are a lot of things I really like about the movies, and I certainly enjoy watching them. However, the rearranged timeline in The Hobbit movies compared to the book is something I am not too happy about. Also, I can’t understand why they came up with the idea that the Witch-king had been buried. After the fall of Angmar, he fled, and when Eärnur wanted to pursue him, Glorfindel made his famous prophecy, “He will not return to this land. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall.” That prophecy is quite important, even in the movies.
Henry: “I am no man!” Lady Eowyn declares as she kicks Witch-king butt.
By virtue of your LOTRproject activities, you’ve met like-minded people from all over the world. Can you tell us about some of them?
Emil: I have been very fortunate to meet a lot excellent people from the Tolkien community. There really are all kinds of people and that is the beauty of it. Henry is one great example, of course, and getting to know him opened the door to the Six Degrees of Sauron project. I’ve also been able to meet the wonderful artist Ted Naismith, who I have been a huge fan of for many years.
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to present my project at HobbitCon in Germany where I also got to meet some of the actors from The Hobbit movie. LOTRproject has in many ways opened a whole new world to me.
Henry: I’ve attended several San Diego Comic-Con’s, so I’ve been lucky enough to see Sean Astin (Samwise Gamgee), Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel), and Sir Richard Taylor (head of Weta) in person. Goblin art from my book Nimpentoad was a finalist in a Warner Bros. online art contest judged by Sir Richard Taylor, Alan Lee, and John Howe.
What are some of your favorite quotes from the books and scenes from the movie?
Emil: I have one I quite like, which is present in both The Lord of the Rings films and, of course, the books. It is of Gandalf and Frodo talking about Sméagol:
“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many – yours not least.” ― Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring