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Interview with the creators of Six Degrees of Sauron

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.

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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.

EmilLOTRproject 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 RingsThe 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 HobbitThe 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


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Six Degrees of Sauron – applying Six Degrees of Separation to The Lord of the Rings

It is with great pleasure that Emil Johansson and I announce the release of the Six Degrees of Sauron web application.

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WHAT IS SIX DEGREES OF SAURON?

Many people are familiar with the theory Six Degrees of Separation or the related game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The theory is that each person is separated from any other person in the world by no more than 6 hops*. Sauron is the main villain in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. He also appears in The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. Since we are Tolkien fanatics, and since his writings feature an enormous cast of characters, we thought it would be fun to apply Six Degrees to Middle Earth. The Six Degrees of Sauron database includes characters from The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion. The Dark Lord is closer than you think!

*Here’s a real-life example. We know Cliff Broadway, who knows Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie director Peter Jackson, who knows his movie cast. So we are both only three hops from Ian McKellan, Orlando Bloom, Elijah Wood, Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, and all the other talented actors from those movies! Another example of Six Degrees of Separation showing how many of the most popular fantasy, sci-fi, and horror movies are connected by a relatively small number of actors can be seen on this amusing infographic.

HOW DO I USE SIX DEGREES OF SAURON?

Six Degrees of Sauron  was designed to be very easy to use. Simply enter the names of Tolkien characters in the “FROM” and “TO” fields, and click “SUBMIT”. Some of Tolkien’s character names are hard to spell. So, you only have to type a few letters, and then a drop-down menu of matching names appears. The results show the corresponding chain(s) of characters and how they know each other. The relationship types listed are:

Fellowship – the two characters were members of the fellowship to destroy Sauron’s ring

Erebor Quest – the two characters participated in the quest to defeat Smaug and reclaim Erebor

Spouse – the two characters were married

Kin – the two characters met and were related

Ally – the two characters met and were friendly, countrymen, or otherwise favorably disposed

Foe – the two characters met on a battlefield or were otherwise antagonistic

Master of/Servant of – one character was the servant of the other

Palantir – the two characters communicated with each other via a Palantir (a magical scrying sphere)

Great Music – the two characters were divine beings who participated in the Great Music via which Middle Earth was formed. Read more about The Ainulindalë, Tolkien’s moving creation myth, in The Silmarillion.

WHO CREATED SIX DEGREES OF SAURON?

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Emil Johansson lives in Gothenburg, Sweden, and is a Chemical Engineering student. He is passionate about photography, the web, chemistry, and of course, the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. He maintains the popular Tolkien fan site lotrproject.com. Emil is @LOTRproject on Twitter.

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Henry Herz lives in San Diego, and writes (with the help of his two sons) fantasy and science fiction (SFF) books for kids. He also interviews SFF & children’s book authors on his  blog. Henry is @Nimpentoad on Twitter.

ANYTHING ELSE I SHOULD KNOW?

Six Degrees of Sauron  is not associated with Middle-earth Enterprises, the Tolkien Estates, or Warner Bros. It is driven by love of Tolkien’s works.

Six Degrees of Sauron is based on the characters and plots of Tolkien’s writings. Characters and relationships that only appear in the movie versions are not included.

The Six Degrees of Sauron database is not claimed to be exhaustive, although creating it was exhausting. We don’t doubt that there may be mistakes or omissions. Six Degrees of Sauron is free to use, and therefore comes with a double-your-money-back guarantee.

If you enjoy Six Degrees of Sauron, kindly share the site with friends who’d appreciate it (or send it to foes who would not, but who you wish to annoy).