10 Nonfiction Books about Tolkien and His Works If You Don’t Know Where to Start

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Travel and Adventure. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring some guest posts!

Are you a J.R.R. Tolkien fan looking to branch out from reading his fiction to reading books about his books? Or perhaps a casual reader of Tolkien scholarship looking for some more reading suggestions? Here are 10 books to get you started.

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This is an obvious one for many avid Tolkien fans, but if you are just getting started about Tolkien and his works, you definitely want to read his letters! Topics range from answers to questions his fans sent about Middle-earth to his Catholic faith, and his personal life. It’s hard to find another book about Tolkien that doesn’t cite his letters!

2. Tolkien’s World from A to Z: The Complete Guide to Middle-earth by Robert Foster

As noted, it’s a reference guide. Very complete. Often recommended by people who take studying Tolkien seriously. You won’t be reading it cover to cover, but you will probably discover lots of information you didn’t know!

3. The Atlas of Middle-earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad

You get hundreds of maps of Middle-earth, focused on various events in Tolkien’s writing, and covering geography mentioned in the First, Second, and Third Ages! While it’s probably not a book you’ll just read through, it’s fun to glance through it, and it’s a great guide to have on hand while reading Tolkien’s work.

4. The Nature of Middle-earth by J.R.R. Tolkien and Carl F Hostetter

Nature of Middle-earth book cover

As Krysta notes in her review, this is a great book for anyone who really wants to dig into the minutia of Middle-earth and find the answers to pressing (or not so pressing) questions: “The Nature of Middle-Earth is not for the casual Tolkien fan, but rather for the reader who wants to know literally everything about Tolkien’s work, his process, and his musings. This collection is indeed more scholarly than otherwise, presenting multiple drafts of Tolkien working out his thoughts along with copious end notes, as well as a description of what each manuscript looks like–what kind of paper it was written on, with what kind of pen, in what kind of handwriting.”

5. The Road to Middle-earth by Tom Shippey

A classic book in the world of Tolkien studies, The Road to Middle-earth is definitely one you will want to check out! It has had a couple updates and continues to be praised by Tolkien scholars. If you read a lot about Tolkien, you will certainly see numerous references to it and Shippey’s work in general.

6. The Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien: The Places That Inspired Middle-earth by John Garth

John Garth is a must-read author when it comes to Tolkien! Krysta has already recommended his book Tolkien and the Great War, so here I recommend his latest, The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, which talks about Tolkien’s own travel, reading, and experiences to get at what places might have been the real-life inspiration for things in his fiction.

7. Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits by Dimitra Fimi

I have not yet read this one personally because, well, the price, but it is consistently recommended by people well-versed in Tolkien studies if you want to read about race in Tolkien!

8. Tolkien and Alterity edited by Christopher Vaccaro and Yvette Kisor

Tolkien and Alterity book cover

Another book on, uh, obviously Tolkien and alterity. Fimi’s work is more widely praised, but this is a collection of essays from various contributors, so you can pick and choose what sounds interesting to you. The book description says: “. Each essay takes as its central position the idea that how Tolkien responds to that which is different, to that which is ‘Other,’ serves as a register of his ethics and moral philosophy. In the aggregate, they provide evidence of Tolkien’s acceptance of alterity.”

9. Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J.R.R. Tolkien ed. by Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan

This essay collection is essential reading for anyone who loves Tolkien, and it will provide some eye-opening arguments for anyone who thinks Tolkien’s women are flat or his portrayals are sexist. The authors consistently offer evidence that while, of course, Tolkien would not have held the views of a 21st-century feminist, the women in his books are nuanced and powerful and generally subvert gender expectations rather than fulfill them. Tolkien was also a champion of women academics in his personal life, and we have no evidence to suggest he didn’t like or respect women.

10. A Fan’s Guide to Neo-Sindarin: A Textbook for the Elvish of Middle-earth by Fiona Jallings

I have not read this one myself (I, sadly, do not know how to speak or read Elvish, though many people assume I do). But I have seen it recommended by people I trust as a fantastic book to get if you want to learn Elvish (or, rather, Neo-Sindarin). It is apparently more accurate than The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth: A Complete Guide to All Fourteen of the Languages Tolkien Invented by Ruth S. Noe, which you will probably see come up in searches if you start looking into books to learn Elvish.

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Bonus: Coming December 2023

Pity, Power, and Tolkien’s Ring: To Rule the Fate of Many by Thomas P. Hillman

I’ve followed Tom’s blog and Twitter for several years, so I am looking forward to this book!

(No official description of the book is available yet.)


Would You Be Able to Reclaim a Silmaril from Morgoth? (Flow Chart)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Travel and Adventure. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring some guest posts!


*Click on the flow chart to make it bigger.

Follow the questions to see if YOU can back a Silmaril from Morgoth! And let us know if you succeed in the comments!



In Defense of Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (Guest Post by Charles Larrivee)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

Note from Briana: As many of our readers will know, Amazon released their take on Middle-earth’s Second Age, The Rings of Power, in 2022. One of the first controversies surrounding the show was the depiction of Galadriel as a soldier. Today’s guest poster has written extensively about the portrayal of Galadriel in The Rings of Power, so we are including some excerpts from longer posts here and hope you will click through to Substack to read the essays in full. The first excerpt here is from “The Sunne in Splendour: A Character Defense of Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power:”

Many skilled artists have contributed their talents to depicting this Elven lady in paintings, portraits and other forms of art. But for nearly 20 years, Cate Blanchett’s regal, ethereal and distant portrayal had been the gold standard for cinematic portrayals, and had become nearly synonymous with how people saw the character. Even a more political and badass depiction in The Hobbit trilogy didn’t shake this perception of Galadriel as an almost Marian figure. So when Vanity Fair, in our first ever serious look at The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power in February 2022, depicted Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel in a full suit of mid-15th century plate armor and described her as “Commander of the Northern Armies…as angry and brash as she is clever” a certain segment of the internet predictably erupted. To them, this was just one more indication that Amazon was intent on turning this character into nothing more than a vehicle for a woke, feminist agenda. This group of online folks was never large, but it was loud. And once the show aired they received reinforcements, for the character of Galadriel that was depicted here was a far cry from the serene vision of grace and wisdom that Blanchett showed. If you ask people to describe this version of Galadriel, you’re most likely to hear a whole host of unflattering adjectives: proud, petulant, childish, stupid, incompetent, ruthless, arrogant, brash, single-minded, genocidal, psychotic…I could go on. And, miracle of miracles, this line of thought has united both the online left and right, with commentary ranging from alt-right fanatic Nerdrotic calling her “Guyladriel” to politically liberal critic Grace Randolph being the first to refer to her as a “Mary Sue” and “Karen.”

But Morfydd’s Galadriel did not lack defenders either. Like Gimli threatening to fight 200 Rohirrim over a perceived slight to his Lady, or Richard of Gloucester riding to the rescue of his brother’s vanguard at the Battle of Tewkesbury, far more people have stood up for this interpretation of Galadriel ever since that Vanity Fair article. Their arguments, based on a willingness to keep an open mind, an engagement with everything that Tolkien wrote about the character as seen in his wider legendarium, and actually watching the show rather than some rage-baiting, hatemongering video on Youtube, have long rested on stronger footing than those of the other side. I am proud to be one of these people, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because this cause has inspired me to learn even more about Tolkien, his world and his ideals. I have come a very long way from my first Twitter thread defending Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel back on September 4 last year, and I will doubtless continue to journey. To everyone who has paved the way before me, I thank you, and hope that this essay will be a worthy contribution to this cause.

The Sunne in Splendour

The second excerpt is from “Triumphant Leader: A Defense of Galadriel’s Depiction As a Warrior in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power:”

Much as is the case when trying to learn about Galadriel’s character, The Silmarillion at least initially doesn’t give us much information about her physical appearance or attributes. For that, we have to turn to Unfinished Tales, where we read the following: “Her mother-name was Nerwen (Man-Maiden) and she grew to be tall even beyond the measure of the women of the Noldor. She was strong of body, mind, and will, a match for both the loremasters and the athletes of the Eldar in the days of their youth.” We learn even more in Letter 348, where Tolkien wrote to Mrs. Catherine Findlay: “She was then of Amazon disposition and bound up her hair as a crown when taking part in athletic feats.” So, it’s clear that Galadriel in her youth was a far cry from a static, regal sorceress, but was an athlete, a tomboy, and exceptionally physically powerful even for an Elven lady. And Elven ladies are already fast and strong, to a degree that we could describe as superhuman. In Morgoth’s Ring, the tenth volume of the History of Middle Earth, we read that “there was less difference in strength and speed between elven-men and elven-women that had not borne child than is seen among mortals.” A sentiment that is repeated in the more recent compendium The Nature of Middle Earth.

Some people will argue that this doesn’t necessarily translate to Galadriel actually being a warrior, or having a martial spirit. True, and for that we need to look at the phrase “Amazon disposition.” Tolkien wasn’t just using this as a word for a strong, athletic woman, although Galadriel would certainly count. No, he was using this for an actual warrior woman. Only two other women in his entire legendarium are described using this word, and in both cases they are explicitly warriors. In the essay on the Druedain from Unfinished Tales, we read of Haleth of the Edain that she was “a renowned Amazon with a picked bodyguard of women.” The Silmarillion goes into more detail, telling the story of how when Haleth’s people were attacked by orcs and her father and brother were slain by them, she took up arms and led the defense for seven days until they were relieved by the Sons of Feanor. And in the Book of Lost Tales, we read of Measse, one of the first Vala conceived by Tolkien, who is described as a “war goddess” and an “Amazon of the bloody arms.” Tolkien, let us remember, was a philologist, a student of language, words and their uses. When he refers to Galadriel, Haleth and Measse as Amazons, he had a very specific reason for doing so, and it wasn’t physical appearance; Galadriel was a Noldorin elf, Haleth a mortal woman, and Measse a demigod. Something else links these three women. And since in two of those cases that purpose is to illustrate their martial characteristics, it stands to reason that the third instance would be a warrior as well.

Triumphant Warrior

Dualism in LeGuin & Tolkien: On the Inseparable, Uncertain Nature of Light and Darkness (Guest Post by Ari)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

It’s difficult to imagine what the literary works of Ursula K. LeGuin and J.R.R Tolkien might have in common. Though both authors shared a deep love of history and mythology, LeGuin’s stories appear to be predominantly influenced by Taoism, C.G Jung, feminism, and her experience growing up across the span of three major wars: WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. However, I found myself pondering all the ways the presence of dualism stuck out to me in Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. The novel not only explores the natures of good and evil; it poses the question of whether such conflict between the two is necessary. Examining examples from The Left Hand of Darkness, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillian, I will analyze how each of the stories uniquely tackle and confront the uncertain nature of light and darkness.

“Light is the left hand of darkness, and darkness the right hand of light. Two are one, life and death, lying together like lovers in kemmer, like hands joined together, like the end and the way.”

The Left Hand of Darkness (1933)

As the Gethen poem above indicates, dualism is not simply a central theme in Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness; it is the essence of the languages, histories, and biologies of the people who inhabit this world. There are the Yomeshta who follow the way of Meshe (reminiscent of Christianity) and the Handdara (similar to Taoism) who are most interested in the dance between light and dark or the known versus the unknown. This alone is representative of  the differences between Eastern and Western philosophies, but what makes each religious group interesting is their perspective of good and evil.

In the eyes of the Yomeshta, there is only the path of light and clarity. They seek knowledge, foresight, and exclusively celebrate life. In contrast, Handdara is the embodiment of dualism itself. Literally. They are neither male nor female, but can become either during times of sexual interest. Their entire perspective is concerned with states of being that oppose or complement, a cycle striving for balance. Like the Yomeshta, they celebrate life, but unlike the others, the Handdara embrace the inevitability of death. It is, to them, the only permanent fact that exists in the whole of the universe because “the only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next.”

“But it was from the difference between us, not from the affinities and likenesses, but from the difference, that that love came: and it was itself the bridge, the only bridge, across what divided us…”

The Left Hand of Darkness

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Handdara religion is that this inherent  “darkness” is not necessarily evil anymore than the light is good. In many ways, this reminds me of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, who possesses both of these sides, but whether or not he’s defined as “evil” depends on his interactions with other characters and his current state. Throughout the series, Gollum swings between these two states, failing to achieve balance, but there are moments in which he inspires pity rather than hatred. Sam is suspicious of him, but Frodo is not. Is this because Gollum is pretending to be good, or has he so deeply rejected the “dark” side of himself that murdered his own friend over the Ring and no longer has control over it? In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo struggles to accept that Gollum was once a Hobbit, too (or close enough to one) and that his own distant kin was capable of such deeds. This rejection, too, leads to a sort of fall into the darkside, with Frodo briefly taken over by the Ring and refusing to throw it into Mt. Doom. So it is a refusal to acknowledge weaknesses that inevitably lead to falling prey to them? I certainly think, on some level, this is what Le Guin is attempting to articulate in The Left Hand of Darkness. If darkness/death is inevitable, is it then necessary for light/life and vice versa?

In The Silmarillion, Eru Ilúvatar is the father of everything. There was supposedly nothing prior to his creation of the Ainur, who were the “offsprings of his thought.”  Among his children was Melkor, a character who we know is later associated with the darkness that fell upon Middle-earth. But in the beginning, there was only music and light. It was only when Melkor rebelled against Ilúvatar’s song that darkness supposedly crept in. But where did the darkness in Melkor come from? Like the Handdara, who avoid too much knowledge for its fruitlessness and the agony it brings, there seems to be a theme in The Silmarillion that too much knowledge leads to destruction. This is not unlike its Christian origins. And although the Handdara do shun unnecessary knowledge, the Yomeshta embrace it.

Furthermore,  we examine The Lord of the Rings in a purely symbolic nature, I would argue the Elves could be representative of light and Sauron of darkness, with humanity struggling to come to terms with both (or balance them). Elves are rather feminine and wise, versus masculine Melkor/Sauron of brute strength. If we ignore the history and observe the archetypes, it’s possible to see the threads of dualism in Tolkien’s work, even if through a slightly different theological lens.

However, the biggest difference between the two is The Silmarillion seems to generally deny the co-existence and co-dependence of light and darkness. Outside of blurring the lines with Frodo, Gollum, and a handful of other characters, there is still an obvious  distinction between good and evil.  It is not them, but the influence of The Ring. At the same time, characters such as Melkor and Sauron are clearly irredeemable, with trolls, dragons, and orcs naturally falling to the dark side right along with them. Pejoratives are often used to reference the darkness, such as “Black-Land” or “Shadow.” Even the physical descriptions of the dark beings illustrated against them, all for the sake of the reading knowing “this is a bad guy.”   In contrast, the Elves of Middle-earth remain as defenders of men, wise councils, and part of the “natural” world.  They are beautiful and create beautiful things, despite sorrow and war. But they are not permanently marred by darkness. Even Aragorn touches on this passing embrace of light and dark; it is not a thing that is always with humanity, but rather a brief moment that must be endured:

“The dying of one day is what leads to hope of the next; men must pass through the shadows of darkness.”

Aragorn, The Lord of the Rings

Thus darkness, in Tolkien’s world, is not a prolonged state for mankind. It may be reoccuring, but there are rises and falls in power. There are strict moral lines to mind and roads, that once tread upon, must be seen until the end. Perhaps this mirrors his experience during WW1 or his focus was on the optimism and heroism of man. This doesn’t make his stories less realistic or modern; in fact, it speaks to the strengths of mankind. There is much sorrow, but there is also joy. There is loss, but there’s also love. There is friendship and peace in between the utter chaos of war. However, Left Hand of Darkness captures another side to existence, one where the boundaries between strengths  and weaknesses are not defined as good or bad. Rather, as unfortunate but necessary parts to function as a whole. How else could we define such beauty without also knowing hideousness? Kindness without cruelty? Life without death? Middle-earth could not become what it was without the arrival of Melkor or the evils of the Ring. Without darkness, there would be no way to step into the light.

About the Author

Ari Augustine is a writer of adult speculative fiction, published poet, and freelance book editor. Often lyrical, sentimental, and dark in nature, her stories feature immersive worlds and intimate characters centered around conflicts of the human condition. You can check out her website Ari Augustine Editorial here.

My First Trip to Middle-earth: Why I Read The Lord of the Rings for the First Time (Guest Post by Michael)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

Oh what a night, late December back in 2001.  The cold and the snow.  Being bundled up tight in our winter coats as we walked to the car.  The excitement and joy as my freshman year of undergrad reached Christmas break and Missy, my best friend from high school, was home on leave.  But what I remember most from this particular night is turning to Missy – who had the same stunned look on her face – as the credits started to roll on The Fellowship of the Ring.  We were absolutely certain we’d missed something.  That couldn’t be the end.  Frodo and Sam crest the ridge, see Mordor, and the movie just…stopped.  It would be six years before Iron Man made post-credit scenes a thing but we stayed in our seats until they turned the house lights on.  You see, we were “those people,” watching Peter Jackson’s film never having read Tolkien’s novels.  So Missy and I were expecting a trilogy like Star Wars with three distinct chapters but found ourselves at the beginning of one loooong story whose ending we wouldn’t see until December of 2003.

You may be a bit surprised by that last sentence, given the title of this piece. You may’ve expected I’d go out the next day, buy the books, and begin reading Tolkien’s epic for the first time. I’m not sure why I didn’t. I never shied away from large books and I enjoyed reading fantasy (Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series and Steven Brust’s The Book of Jhereg were favorites). Maybe it’s as simple as sometimes we define ourselves by what we don’t watch or read. For example, I’ve never seen Titanic or Avatar (unless you count Dances with Wolves or Pocahontas or Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest or any movie where a white soldier from an industrial society befriends a group of indigenous people and fights alongside them against the military machine out to destroy them) and I’m okay with never seeing them. But that wasn’t the case with reading The Lord of the Rings.

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Missy and I on that Christmas break – it may be the very night we saw The Fellowship of the Ring! Note the retro time stamp on the picture ;D. / Photo Credit – Um, Mom most likely

I really enjoyed The Fellowship of the Ring and I excitedly watched The Two Towers and The Return of the King, marathoning the other films before seeing the newest.  But I never felt the urge to read the books.   In college a good friend told me the first sixty pages or so of The Fellowship of the Ring just described rolling Hobbit hills and the action really doesn’t pick up until they get to the Prancing Pony.  That felt like…a lot when I already had – and enjoyed! – the films.  (I should note, in no way am I judging anyone who just loves The Lord of the Rings as movies.  Go you!  I see you, appreciate you, and validate you :).  Heck, I was you until…well, that’s what this story is all about.)

I grant this is an odd setup for a piece that’s part of Pages Unbound’s Tolkien Reading Event.  But the reading’s coming!  Trust me!  In fact, it’s in the very next paragraph.  See?  Your patience paid off!

I would find a reason to finally read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings about seven or eight years later.  After undergrad I was working as a youth minister (take that everyone who questioned my religious studies degree! I was employed with that (and still am) before my social studies ed. certificate got me anywhere).  I had completed an epic six week Theology of Star Wars event with my youth group kids.  Each week we’d meet in the basement of the church, watch a Star Wars film (The Phantom Menace through Return of the Jedi (judge me if you want but the story works so much better – especially theologically – in that order)), have pizza, and deconstruct all the theology and mythology in the movies.  The kids LOVED it and our conversations ran past our meeting end time every week.  Once we were finished, they asked to do it again and I said I’d be happy to – I just needed another theologically rich film series.  Several kids suggested The Lord of the Rings!  It was a great idea…with just one problem.

I still hadn’t read the books.

And yes, it was a film discussion and not a book discussion, but could I – in good faith and with academic integrity – teach films based on books when I hadn’t read the books myself?

No, it turns out I couldn’t.  But I was intimidated!  It wasn’t the size of the books but their reputation.  Even writing as a part of the Tolkien Reading Event has me antsy.  Briana and Krysta are amazing people and I know I’m welcome here :).  And I know the readership they’ve cultivated on Pages Unbound is warm and welcoming, too!  But I judge myself based on my sense of my knowledge of the world and mystique of Tolkien.  It was jumping into that world more than those books that had me a li’l anxious when I decided to finally read The Lord of the Rings.

Does that make sense?  Maybe you can sympathize.  Or maybe it’s just a “me thing.”  My therapist once remarked she was surprised, given the way my anxiety disorder presents itself, that I didn’t become a therapist myself.  She said when someone’s anxiety is like mine, they often choose therapy as a profession to help redirect some of that anxiety around their own life into thinking about others’ lives.  But for me, I redirect that anxiety by diving into popular culture and deconstructing and analyzing everything.  The way I think, write, and teach about Marvel, Doctor Who, DC, or Star Wars refocuses my anxious parts and lets them obsess over something else.

But The Lord of the Rings has never been one of the narratives I do this with and thus I always feel like a stranger in a strange land when it comes to talking about The Lord of the Rings. And I definitely felt that way about teaching the films! However, for my youth group kiddos and in the service of great discussions, I opened The Fellowship of the Ring for the very first time, pen and notebook beside me, and was off.

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Me looking skeptically at the length of all three novels…except imagine me doing this FOURTEEN YEARS AGO before teaching through Covid had taken so much of the light from my eyes. I don’t have a picture from that very night. / Photo Credit – Kalie, best friend, photog, fellow blogger about literature and horror and all that good stuff

As will come as no surprise to anyone reading a Tolkien Reading Event piece, I really enjoyed it!  As will also come as no surprise to anyone reading a Tolkien Reading Event piece, I was blown away by how much more was in the books than in the films!  (See?  I’m doing it again, presuming everyone who will read this is far more knowledgeable with Tolkien than I am.  This is what gatekeeping yourself looks like.)  When it came time to discuss the films with my youth group kids, a lot of the conversations began with our talking about what we saw in the movies and then my adding some of the more detailed theology Tolkien did with the books.  We compared and contrasted.  We discussed the (potentially) different aims of Tolkien and Jackson.  We discussed the different narrative natures of novels and films.  I remained far less comfortable with The Lord of the Rings than I was with Star Wars but that’s part of what made it so memorable for me.  The kids who’d read Tolkien loved it!  And for those who didn’t, who knows?  Maybe I helped plant the seeds for their own reading adventure someday.

Though some kids were straight-up just there for movies and pizza XD.

To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi (hmm, should I be quoting Gandalf?), finally reading The Lord of the Rings was like, “taking [my] first step into a larger world.”  I felt the way I did when I first watched Doctor Who or Star Wars or first read Kurt Vonnegut or Arthur Conan Doyle.  Here was this HUGE piece of culture with legions of devoted fans which has influenced SO MANY THINGS I love and I was finally experiencing it for myself!  I had parts holding anxiety around this for sure.  And I had parts which doubted my “academic qualifications” only having read the books once.  But most of all I felt excited to finally know, to have finally read my way through Middle-earth myself.  Of course the worldbuilding was as complex and complete as I’d heard.  Of course the characters were more developed than in the films and had adventures I never knew of.  Of course there were people like Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, Old Man Willow, the Barrow Wight, or Glorfindel who I’d never met before.  All I’d heard about the books was true.  But now I had experienced it for myself.

For all my self-criticism and self-judgment around my knowledge of or comfort with Tolkien’s world, The Lord of the Rings has given me two uniquely wonderful memories.  I will never forget wading into all that anxiety in the service of learning something new and having a better conversation with my youth group kids.  Nor will I ever forget that snowy night when Missy and I, still kids ourselves, first entered the world of Middle-earth together.  For all the anxiety I put on myself about “knowing” or “understanding” or “belonging in” the world of The Lord of the Rings, at its heart it’s just a story.  Stories pull us in, bind us together, ignite our imaginations, and fill our hearts.  That’s why we think, talk, and write so much about the ones we love!  That selfsame love and all it produces can make jumping into a beloved universe a li’l intimidating.  But it isn’t a hindrance, not really.  It’s certainly not a reason to avoid a brilliant story. 

No matter how out of the loop you may feel, the story can still do it’s job, all your anxieties aside, if you’re open to it. It did for me! No matter how hard I tried to “judge” my relationship with Tolkien’s work, it pulled me in. The memory of reading The Lord of the Rings binds me to my time as a youth minister just as the memory of seeing The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time binds me to Missy. Opening that book for the first time, just like settling down into the theatre on that cold December night, left a mark on my imagination and filled my heart with beautiful memories. What a very special time for me, as I remember what a night.

About the Author

Michael J. Miller is the author of The Heart of a Superhero: Considering the Prophetic Dimension of Modern Superhero Comics, an upcoming volume in Claremont Press’ Religion and Comics Series. When not teaching courses on religion and popular culture, you can find him at My Comic Relief where he writes and rambles about comics, Doctor Who, books, movies, TV, and whatever else pops into his head. Should it be your thing, you can also follow him on Twitter @My_ComicRelief.

Smiths and Stars: Once Upon a Time (Guest Post by BookmarkedOne)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Travel and Adventure. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring some guest posts!

I first came across “Smith of Wootton Major” in high school, in A Tolkien Miscellany, one of the few Tolkien books my library had outside of the most famous, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. It was during the time when I was clinging to any Tolkien I could get my grubby claws on after saying goodbye to Frodo and Company, because of how much I’d loved it, how little I wanted it to end. 

You can imagine how I felt when I found he had written other books. I ran into The Children of Húrin that way. But that, as everyone knows, is a very different story. 

The Miscellany is orange. Paperback. Has a dragon on the front. This is all you need in design to ensure it will stop bookmarkedone dead in the middle of the library. 

It is only recently I’ve claimed a copy of my own, swiped from a stack in an antique shop, much the same way I found my battered copy of The Fellowship of the Ring. Only this time, I knew exactly what jewels lay hidden inside. 

I have read “Smith of Wootton Major” only twice. That first time, the Pauline Baynes illustrations greeting me like friends from my childhood, as cheerful and simple as before, untouched by age or passing time. The second, curled up by the garrett window in spring, white petals falling from the blooming trees to the rooftops below me like unmelting snow. 

It’s funny. Even though I think I remember everything and it feels like only last summer I was sitting in the sun slanting through the glass windows of the DMV, outdoors on splintery wood bleachers, in mostly empty waiting rooms with blaring TV sets that no one wants to watch but no one ever can find a way to turn off, meeting the Shadow Bride and Farmer Giles, struggling through the archaic language of Gawain until my head ached but my eyes shone as if I too had seen the light of a Faery star—it has been a long time. 

The Smith’s story was only a small part of it all. 

It’s small of itself, too. The wordcount falls just shy of the 10,000-word novella minimum, making it too short for publication alone. Instead, it is often paired with “Farmer Giles of Ham,” despite the fact that Giles and Smithson would perhaps not have been the happiest of neighbors. 

It’s a fairytale. A bedtime story. Short and sweet and simple. 

It’s as delightful as I remember it. In some ways, better. 

A word of caution, if you’ve read this far and still, despite all odds, are expecting some sort of refined, literary analysis. 

Ha. No. 

Bookmarkedone is a creature of chaos. You’re going to get a ramble. Consider it neither the forest nor the trees, but a stroll through the woods, arm in arm with only the most eccentric of reading companions. 

Besides. The story does not want that. 

It’s true that you can only read a story for the first time once. After that, you know how it goes. You remember. You won’t have the same hope, the same fear, the wondering what comes next. 

It’s the same story. The smith’s son and the fairy cake. A silver star, the way luck goes, and the land of Faery. Like a melody. I remembered almost everything. 

And after I had finished it, I sat there, in the garrett, wondering exactly where I’d been. 

It’s a good story if it can do that. If it can take you somewhere so that the world in front of your eyes is not invisible, but utterly inconsequential. So when you look again, it has taken a different shape. 

My college English department had a soft spot for Ursula K. Le Guin, even if they begrudged a disapproval for genre work in general. That was the first place I heard the story, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” I remember my professor (one of the nice ones. She wore sneakers and jeans to class every day and let us read The Lightning Thief and watch a version of Macbeth set in feudal Japan for course credit) talking about that story. It wasn’t so much what she said as the way she tilted her head, as if after that story, the rest of the world was slightly askew. 

Tolkien, Le Guin, and Michael Moorcock are alike in that for me, although their writing is in all other matters very different, and the three writers themselves would probably repel one another like magnets should they ever meet at one of those unlikely, courtesy of time travel “If you could invite…” formal dinners. 

“In a fog,” is the right term, I guess, if you understand that it’s the sort of white fog with the sun shining through it, and that I like fog, as a type of weather, any day of the week. Happy, confused, and a little lost. 

It’s like breaking the surface after swimming in deep water. Like breathing for the first time, suddenly realizing air has a taste. The morning you wake up and know before you open your eyes, by the sound of the birds singing, that spring has come while you were asleep. 

It is spring now. White flowers outside my window, petals falling even as they open. Not a Faery spring, for the sky is too grey and the grass is still burrowed deep under the mud. 

Perhaps Smithson’s words are the best way to describe his own story. 

…a great stillness came upon him; and he seemed to be both in the World and in Faery, and also outside them and surveying them, so that he was at once in bereavement, and in ownership, and in peace. When after a while the stillness passed he raised his head and stood up. The dawn was in the sky and the stars were pale…The high field where he stood was silent and empty; and he knew that his way now led back…(Tolkien, “Smith” 38). 

The world is the same. It’s you who have changed. 

The story is the same as when I read it before. Smithson and Alf and Nokes, they’re all there. The little town of Wootton Major, the smith’s shop, the strange Faery star. 

I’m the one who’s different. It’s all the same, but my perspective has changed, as if the world has tilted, just a little to the left. 

When I was reading The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was Tolkien. J.R.R. Tolkien, fantasy genius, master of languages, university professor, best friends with C.S. Lewis—a man who wrote one story and wrote it well. 

My hero. 

Now Tolkien is affectionately Master Tolkien, the man who wrote a speech shortly before presenting it (complete with misspellings), nearly failed his exams because he was learning Finnish instead of studying, was a terrifying driver, arrived late to class (he was teaching) for the sake of throwing the doors open while chanting Beowulf in Old English, moved from house to house instead of settling down, still was besties with Jack Lewis, but in a sort of impossible way, as one was loud and cheerful and the other a quiet prankster, and who loved his wife as much as if she had been a Faery queen. 

My hero. 

There are, of course, the stylistic notes of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in “Smith of Wootton Major” that any careful reader will notice—the fondness for food, especially cakes, and describing it well; the story centering around “un-heroes,” ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances; and the idea of a gift given freely. 

But I wonder who else recognizes the Hylestad Stave Church in Norway when Smithson stands dazzled before the newly glazed and painted Great Hall. The one with the carvings of the hero Sigurd slaying Fafnir the dragon that appear on the 2009 edition of Tolkien’s The Tale of Sigurd and Gudrún, a story complete with dragon, treasure, sleeping beauty, Attila the Hun, Vikings, Odin popping around every corner in his blue cloak, and enough bloodshed to fill a small ocean. It’s the same story that fueled Richard Wagner’s operas, Der Ring des Nibelungen, the Ring Cycle—although these are very different from Tolkien’s One Ring. 

Then there is the Twelfth Night tradition of baking a coin into an Epiphany cake for good luck, transformed into the “Twenty-four Feast,” at which twenty-four children are presented a masterful confection with twenty-five trinkets baked inside—twenty-four simple coins and baubles, and one Faery star. 

And anyone who remembers the Four Farthings of the Shire will smile at the idea of “Wootton Major it was called because it was larger than Wootton Minor, a few miles away deep in the trees; but it was not very large,” simply because of all the places called Tor and Avon (hill and hill, respectively. Yes, really)—because that really is how we humans name things (Tolkien, “Smith” 9). We name them simply, plainly, truthfully.  

This is my hill, my river, my home. And that makes them better and different from all others in the world. 

It’s idle speculation about Hylestad. There could have been any number of buildings Tolkien had in mind when writing about “the Great Hall, the largest and oldest building in the place and the most beautiful…built of good stone and good oak and…well tended, though it was no longer painted or gilded as it had been once upon a time” (Tolkien, “Smith” 9-10). 

As I said, this isn’t a calculated, researched analysis. I’m not a Tolkien scholar. I’m a no-name blogger who happens to be a little fanatic in regards to his work. 

More importantly, I’m a writer. And there’s one thing in “Smith of Wootton Major” that my skills and knowledge can attest to. 

It’s “once upon a time.” 

Tolkien doesn’t open his story with these words. Certainly he knew them, being not only a professor of English literature, but an avid scholar of myth and folklore, a reader of Grimms’ and Lang’s fairytales, and a father of four children (the first audience of our beloved Hobbit). 

Everyone knows “once upon a time.” 

The Hobbit doesn’t start this way, either. Instead, we have “In a hole in a ground there lived a hobbit” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 3). Words which, in addition to being so iconic as to reshape the world of English literature, do not fail, when they pop up in conversation, to leave me grinning like an idiot. 

It’s a clear choice. To abandon a convention, to thwart the reader’s expectations. Tolkien—even in his most casual storytelling, sending Bilbo off with dwarves styled to mimic those in Grimms’ fairytales for his children’s entertainment—refuses to do anything but tell a good story, full of seed cakes and green doors and smoke-rings and caps with silver tassels. 

I believe the proper phrase is he “has no chill.” It’s one of the things I admire most about his writing. 

It’s a good way to do things, not to leave them as they are, but constantly reshape them, reinvent them, like the waves washing over the shore until even broken glass is smooth. We forget, sometimes, locked in our own cultures, our everyday lives, our walks to work, our grocery shopping, that this is not always and everywhere, how things are. 

“Once upon a time” isn’t universal. Ask Wikipedia if you don’t believe me. It’s there. One of my favorites is the Czech tradition, “Beyond seven mountain ranges, beyond seven rivers…” More common, it seems, is the lilting, laughing riddle, “There was, and there was not,” strange and sensible enough as if carried to us by the very voices of the Fair Folk. The variant best known to me, the sort of terror who reads every single fairytale from the thick Grimms’ collection, is the German version, “Back in the days when it was still of help to wish for a thing…” (Wikipedia) 

Everyone knows why we do it. At some vague point in time, something wonderous happened, but it was somewhere very, very, far away, so put your wooden sword down and eat your porridge, because if you don’t know where the dragon lives, you can’t go off to fight it. 

You’re safe here, in this place that is familiar and ordinary. 

Tolkien doesn’t do that. 

THERE was a village once, not very long ago for those with long memories, nor 

very far away for those with long legs. Wootton Major it was called because it was larger 

than Wootton Minor, a few miles away deep in the trees; but it was not very large, though 

it was at that time prosperous, and a fair number of folk lived in it, good, bad, and mixed, 

as is usual (Tolkien, “Smith” 9). 

That is how Tolkien begins “Smith of Wootton Major.” Yes, it happened in the past, but not in some forgotten age! This is the sort of storyteller who would say, “If you don’t believe me, go ask your granny if she saw dragons flying overhead when she was young.” And beyond that, Wootton Major isn’t far. If one could walk there, just imagine Tolkien piling his Merton College students into the back of his car on a summer day and taking them there. 

Long memories and long legs—well, both can be stretched if there’s something you want to find. 

What Tolkien really says? 

There is a place called Wootton Major. I am going to tell you about some magic that happened there. And, if you want, you might find your way to it. 

Remember that line I quoted when I was off rambling about a Norwegian church? “…the Great Hall, the largest and oldest building in the place and the most beautiful. It was built of good stone and good oak and was well tended, though it was no longer painted or gilded as it had been once upon a time (Tolkien, “Smith” 9-10, emphasis mine). 

Ha! There! “Once upon a time!” 

But it isn’t a now “once upon a time,” even in the story, which has so clearly taken place sometime in the past. It’s a then “once upon a time.” It’s the far past. 

Important distinction. 

It changes things. 

“Smith of Wootton Major” isn’t set in the era of “once upon a time,” that specific age in which wishing still did one some good. 

It falls after that, in a world where people are already forgetting what living in a world with magic was like. Fairytales have not yet been relegated to the Victorian nursery, their inhabitants bizarrely shrinking in size and their (often startling and violent) stories becoming the exclusive property of children. But from the snide comments of Nokes, referring to the Fairy Queen as a “tricky little creature,” a pretty ornament to sparkle atop a cake, and not a being of immense beauty, wisdom, and power, that the shadow of such sad days is already looming. 

It is a lost age. The child has woken from the dream, is rubbing its eyes and trying to remember if whatever it is already forgetting could really be both frightening and beautiful, about the delicate line between dream and nightmare. Soon enough, eyes will close and sleep will return. But the memory, the memory lingers. 

Like something familiar which has never had a name. 

Why does he do this? Tolkien could place Wootton Major anywhen he chooses, and yet, he chooses a lost age. It isn’t like the frame narrative, “And see, I heard it from a friend of a friend of a friend who heard it from a cousin who was eavesdropping in a bar, and therefore, it’s incontrovertible proof that Shangri-La is real.” It isn’t that assurance he gives us that he is but a translator of the “found” stories of Middle-Earth. 

What then, is the purpose? 

You’ve humored me this far. Allow me to present a theory. 

Being a novella, the trappings of a frame narrative would be too great a thing for this little story. And yet, the “long memories” serves a similar purpose. 


The common names like Wootton Major and Wootton Minor; the familiar culture (well, to those of us who are historically nerdy enough to recognize it) of the Twelfth Night/Twenty-four cake; the oak and stone Great Hall; the very ordinariness of a little village in the woods, minding its own business, filled with craftspeople like bakers and smiths (good and bad, not all good and peaceable and happy as you might find in many another more patronizing and placating fairy story); a place where luck is what luck always is, not a fair thing, but a real one—all of this, taken together, to make a place that really might well have existed sometime, someplace, somewhere over there. 

Maybe it seemed too much a thing to expect people to believe in dragons in 1967. I imagine the same people at college who snubbed genre writing would blink at me stupidly if I casually said something about Fafnir’s hoard, still lost under the waters of the Rhine. It’s easier to believe in something fabulous happening a long time ago, in some other place—just not here. There they have wars and queens and dragons and blue fruit that tastes like ice cream. Here we have stinky cars and nine-to-fives and people who settle down and buy houses. Even lions seem like a dream. 

But that’s not what Tolkien is after, that “Sure, sure, I guess it’s possible it could have happened somewhere once.” No, this is different. 

If we admit that Wootton Major was possible, that the story is true, then so is the entire realm of Faery. 

There is no explanation for how one reaches the country of Faery in the story. Believe me. I have looked. 

There is no magic wardrobe or special set of words or glittering key set in a shining door. According to my best understanding, you get there the way you would get to any other country. In Smithson’s case, you walk. 

Of course it isn’t that simple. Not just anyone can walk into the realm of Faery. 

An exception, then. You can find your way there—if you are invited. 

To voracious readers of fairy stories, this is not exactly news. Changeling children, Powell the Prince of Dyfed—even in Middle Earth, if one wants to enter the Far West (not the realm of Faery but the Valar), one must have an Elf as a guide—someone who comes from there and there means to return. 

When I first read “Smith of Wootton Major,” I thought it was a solitary adventure. So much of it is about where Smithson goes, not who he goes with. The green fields, the trees and flowers, lakes as clear as glass. 

It seemed a lonely thing. Starbrow, walking in this perfect world, empty of anyone to share it with. 

Not so. 

While the Faery star is his invitation, it is some time before “he first began to walk far without a guide…” (Tolkien, “Smith” 26). There are Faery warriors returning in ships across the sea. There are Faery maidens who dance in the green glens. The very trees have voices and speak and know deep secrets. 

He reminds me of Tolkien this time, Starbrow. “Some of his briefer visits he spent looking only at one tree or one flower; but later in longer journeys he had seen things of both beauty and terror…” (Tolkien, “Smith” 26) 

I don’t recall where I first heard of Tolkien doing this, going for walks only to stare at a single plant in endless happiness. But that is not the only thing about Starbrow that reminds me of him. 

For the longest time, Tolkien wrote, unknown. The Silmarillion, his masterwork, his history of Middle-Earth, was never published during his lifetime. But he knew. He knew the stories of the very stars themselves. 

And so when I read of Smith, crafting ordinary things for ordinary people, but trying to make them beautiful, going for long walks and learning things he cannot share, I think of Tolkien, university professor, slogging through endless papers, teaching lectures, and going home to tell strange, lovely stories to his children. 

A baker, a smith, a boy who cannot dance. Each passed a Faery star and all that comes with it. 

I think of what Tolkien wrote about that Twenty-four Feast, “No doubt some who deserved to be asked were overlooked, and some who did not were invited by mistake; for that is the way of things, however careful those who arrange such matters may try to be” (Tolkien, “Smith” 10). And if it is important enough that we hear it once, he writes it twice, “Some found one, and some found two, and several found none; for that is the way luck goes, whether there is a doll with a wand on the cake or not” (Tolkien, “Smith” 20). 

Nokes calls the Fairy Queen “a tricky little creature” because of luck. Someone who cheats, makes some take more and others take less. As if in a game, she has already decided who will lose. 

The old folktales, romances, lays, they agree with Nokes. Fairies are trouble. Once upon some other time and place, remember. No tricks here. 

No luck. 

The land of Faery is beautiful. Terrible, dangerous, and strange, but beautiful. So are its people. They aren’t human, they aren’t like us. Luck isn’t just. 

But is that any reason to want a world in which it does not exist? 

When luck is in play, there is no way to be certain. So often I hear people talk about it, safety, security, stay, dependable, reliable, same. 

How tiresome. 

I’d much rather run away to the faire for a day, make a friend playing fiddle and see if the road ever leads us back to the same place. 

There is a charm in not knowing. 

Tolkien tells us that Wootton Major might be real, and all of Faery with it. We don’t know where. We don’t know how. 

But there is hope in it. 

Hope. That’s what it makes me feel, this story. That somewhere, somehow, beautiful things are there. And if you keep hoping, keep looking, if you are lucky, someday, you might see them. 

I’m not about to turn into an indulgent Victorian parent and plaster a moral on the story. But I do wonder if that, like so much of Tolkien’s writing, is the point. 

To look at every tree and flower, listen to the voices in the breeze, laugh as the autumn leaves fall into your hair, feel the silent knowing in cool stone, see the colors in the sunset, orange and pink and red, glorious in a way no camera has ever been able to capture. To know that beauty exists, even if we cannot see it. To let the world be wild and free and strange, lucky and unlucky. 

Some things are beyond us. Simpler and sweeter and better than we could make them. 

Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just a story about a cake and a Faery star. Maybe it’s as Nokes says, “a silly dream, when you come to think of it. King o’ Fairy! Why, he hadn’t no wand…That’s natural. Stands to reason. There ain’t no magic in it” (Tolkien, “Smith” 56-57). 

You can imagine what I think of that. 

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Works Cited 

Tolkien, J.R.R. “Smith of Wootton Major.” Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham, Del Ray, 1986. 

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. Mariner Books, 2012. 

Wikipedia, “Once upon a time.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Once_upon_a_time. Accessed 12 March 2023. 

Photo credits in order: 

Miroshnichenko, Tima. “Gray Metal Tools on Gray Concrete Surface.” Pexels, https://www.pexels.com/photo/gray-metal-tools-on-gray-concrete-surface-5846086/. Accessed 13 March 2023. 

Cover of A Tolkien Miscellany, taken from an illustration by J.R.R. Tolkien. Quality Paperback Bookclub, 2002. Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/23611. Accessed 13 March 2023. 

Kaiyv, Zhang. “Trees on Forest at Daytime.” Pexels, https://www.pexels.com/photo/trees-on-forest-at-daytime-1083515/. Accessed 13 March 2023. 

Mendes, Isabella. “Round Bread.” Pexels, https://www.pexels.com/photo/round-bread-940842/. Accessed 13 March 2023. 

Cover of The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún, by J.R.R. Tolkien. HarperCollins, 2009. Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6352248-the-legend-of-sigurd-gudr-n. Accessed 13 March 2023. 

Koppens, Ylanite. “Clear Glass Bottle on Gray Concrete Surface.” Pexels, https://www.pexels.com/photo/clear-glass-bottle-on-gray-concrete-surface-10288906/. Accessed 13 March 2023. 

Cats Coming. “Person Holding Chopping Board With Sponge Cake.” Pexels, https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-chopping-board-with-sponge-cake-1359330/. Accessed 13 March 2023. 

Pixabay, “Directly Above Shot of Dried Decoration.” Pexels, https://www.pexels.com/photo/directly-above-shot-of-dried-decoration-247113/. Accessed 13 March 2023. 

Shuraeva, Anastasia. “A Wooden Door.” Pexels, https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-wooden-door-6015516/. Accessed 13 March 2023. 

Koppens, Ylanite. “Gray-metallic Star-shaped Decor.” Pexels, https://www.pexels.com/photo/gray-metallic-star-shaped-decor-744973/. Accessed 13 March 2023. 

Branco, Marta. “Lighted Christmas Stars.” Pexels, https://www.pexels.com/photo/lighted-christmas-stars-1653688/. Accessed 13 March 2023. 

About the Author

Bookmarkedone is a writer and musician, capable of devouring most types of fiction, but especially fantasy. Perhaps more relevant, she is the force of chaos behind the bookmarkedone blog, authoring 200 posts and counting. Most days she can be found in the garrett (reading), sitting under a tree (more reading), halfway up said tree, or running away with her violin to a Renaissance festival. You can read more of her work online at https://bookmarkedone.home.blog/, or chat anytime about neomedieval music, tea, and faerie rings on Twitter @bookmarkedone.

Tolkien Reading Event 2023: Introduction and Schedule

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!


  • March 25: Smiths and Stars: Once Upon a Time (Guest Post by BookmarkedOne)
  • March 26: The Fall of Númenor by J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. by Brian Sibley
  • March 27: My First Trip to Middle-earth: Why I Read The Lord of the Rings for the First Time (Guest Post by Michael)
  • March 28: Dualism in LeGuin and Tolkien (Guest Post by Ari)
  • March 29: In Defense of Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (Guest Post by Charles Larrivee)
  • March 30: Mr. Bliss by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • March 31: Would You Be Able to Reclaim a Silmaril from Morgoth? (Flow Chart)
  • April 1: The Story of Kullervo by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • April 2: 10 Nonfiction Books about Tolkien and His Works If You Don’t Know Where to Start
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Use the hashtag #TolkienReadingEvent23 to follow our event and share your thoughts on Tolkien! We’ll also be sharing discussion questions and polls.

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For quizzes, discussion posts, reviews, and more, check out our Tolkien post master list here.

Wanted: Guest Posts for Our Ninth Annual Tolkien Reading Event (March 2023)

During March 2023, Pages Unbound will be running our eighth Tolkien Reading Event.  Every year on March 25, the Tolkien Society celebrates Tolkien Reading Day, and we like to expand on the event by hosting several days’ worth of Tolkien-related content.  We have had some wonderful guest posts in the past and would like to invite you to submit a guest post this year.

Official Tolkien Society Theme: TRAVEL AND ADVENTURE


The Tolkien Reading Event is open to a wide variety of posts.  In previous events, we have featured everything from book reviews to quizzes to serious literary criticism.   Pitch us an idea for any type of post you would like!  You can also review books and movies that have been featured before; we love new perspectives! See a full list of past posts here.

If you need ideas, we are particularly open to posts about:

  • the official theme: TRAVEL AND ADVENTURE
  • any aspect of The Silmarillion
  • the art of Middle-Earth
  • a tour of your Tolkien collection (books or merchandise)
  • Tolkien’s villains
  • reviews of books about (not by) Tolkien
  • reflections on Tolkien’s “minor” works (Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wooton Major, Roverandom)
  • posts about Rings of Power


If you are interested in participating, please fill out the Google form below.  We will begin the event on Monday, March 21, and so would like to receive guest posts by March 18.  We will contact everyone with final details around that time (such as what day your guest post will be scheduled).  Please feel free to spread the word to fellow Tolkien fans!

Title: Please tell us what you would like the title of the post to be when you send us the draft! Otherwise, you will be subject to our whims. 😉

Post Length: There is no required post length; however long you feel you need to address the topic is fine.

Photos/Graphics: Feel free to include photos or graphics if you would like, but only include images you own the rights to post.  (Basically, no copyright infringement, please!)

Poems: Excerpts of poems are fine, but please do not include entire poems still under copyright.

Twitter Hashtag: #TolkienReadingEvent23


*LOTR clip art by Nesca at CuteGraphicSupply (who seems to no longer have an Etsy shop, but I am crediting her anyway).



Why Did Aragorn Let Grima Wormtongue Go?

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Love and Friendship. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting several days of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

Today I answer a somewhat common question that has been Googled about The Lord of the Rings:

Why does Aragorn spare Wormtongue’s life after he is exposed as an agent of Saruman and cast out from Edoras?

In the Book

The first thing to note here is that Aragorn only saves Grima’s life in the movie adaptation. In the book, it is Theoden who spares Wormtongue, at Gandalf’s advice:

“See, Theoden, here is a snake! With safety you cannot take it with you, nor can you leave it behind. To slay it would be just. But it was not always as it now is. Once it was a man, and did you service in its fashion. Give him a horse and left him go at once, wherever he chooses. By his choice you shall judge him.”

“Do you hear this, Wormtongue?” said Theoden. “This is your choice: to ride with me to war, and let us see in battle whether you are true; or to go now, whither you will. But then, if ever we meet again, I shall not be merciful.”

The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien

The theme of mercy runs throughout The Lord of the Rings, even as John pointed out in his guest post that capital punishment is still the norm in Gondor (and likely Rohan, too, since Eomer threatened in the past to kill Grima, and Gandalf suggests taking his life wouldn’t be entirely out of line).

Yet Gandalf’s general teaching is that lives should not be taken lightly. Early in the story, he defends Gollum and tells Frodo:

“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.”

The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

He implies it is not the prerogative of humans (or Elves, Hobbits, Wizards, etc.) to take someone’s life because they “deserve” it, but rather that this is the job of a higher power (Ilúvatar).

There is also the running theme that offering such mercy pays off unexpectedly later. Readers see that sparing Gollum’s life is the reason the Ring is finally destroyed. And sparing Grima’s life is the reason Gandalf and company acquire the palantír that had been in Orthanc. Grima also ultimately rids Middle-earth of Saruman.

In the Movie

So why is it Aragorn who saves Grima’s life in Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation?

In the film, King Theoden advances ominously on Wormtongue after he is thrown down the stairs of Edoras, raising his sword to smite Rima where he lies. Aragorn leaps from off-screen and catches Theoden’s sword with his own, saying, “No! No, my lord! Let him go. Enough blood has been spilt on his account.”

Watch the scene here.

In general, I would say the themes here are the same. Aragorn believes in mercy (very likely a quality he himself learned from Gandalf in the past, though Gandalf does not comment in this scene), and he makes a vague statement about how enough violence has been done, and Theoden shouldn’t perpetuate the cycle. There’s no discussion of how Grima might redeem himself if he chooses, as there is in the book, however. Grima simply spits on Aragorn’s offered hand and runs away.

My guess is that the writers were trying to incorporate the theme of mercy but also wanted to make this scene more “dramatic” somehow. Theoden and Aragorn’s crossing of swords certainly is more exciting than Gandalf’s and Theoden’s mild discussion of what might be done with Grima. The scene also really emphasizes the idea that Theoden was weak and under Grima’s spell and hasn’t quite recovered yet; his walk down the stairs towards Grima looks a bit crazed, as if some of the spell has yet to wear off. The scene basically highlights Aragorn’s nobility at the expense of Theoden’s.

There is also the awkwardness that the scene shows Aragorn disagreeing with Theoden’s judgement in his own kingdom, which the film attempts to compensate for by having Aragorn immediately cry, “Hail Theoden King!” and initiating everyone else’s kneeling to Theoden. One could argue it doesn’t entirely work as, later in the film, Theoden feels the need to explicitly tell Aragorn that Aragorn is not the king of Rohan and should keep some of his opinions to himself.


The fact that Grima’s life is spared is consistent with Tolkien’s theme of mercy and not dealing death in judgement that runs throughout his work. The choice to have Aragorn specifically save Wormtongue in the movie seems done for drama and to emphasize that Aragorn in particular is wise and merciful.


The Rohirrim Name Generator

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Love and Friendship. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting several days of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

Discover what your name would be in Rohan by following the directions below!

Format: [Name] of [Place]

What is the first letter of your first name?

A: Eorl
B: Morwen
C: Thengel
D: Théodwyn
E: Mildwyn
F: Guthlaf
G: Grimbold
H: Hama
I: Gamling
J: Erkenbrand
K: Ceorl
L: Eothain
M: Dunhere
N: Estmund
O: Merefled
P: Eowyn
Q: Cenric
R: Helm
S: Darwise
T: Eomer
U: Adgith
V: Theoden
W: Elflhem
X: Grima
Y: Wilrun
Z: Theodred

What is your favorite color?

(Of those listed. I know I can’t include every possible option!)

Red: Aldburg
Orange: Westemnet
Yellow: Edoras
Green: Eastfold
Blue: Fenmarch
Purple: Westfold
Pink: Eastemnet
Black: the Folde
Brown: the Wolde
White: West-March
Other: the White Mountains

Tell us your name in the comments!

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