Are you … a Tolkienist or a Ringer?

Writing on the Ring

Terminologies:

Tolkienist = an individual who studies, and is a fan of the works of J.R.R Tolkien

Ringer = an ardent reader of The Lord of the Rings – but more specifically, a fan of the films

A few days ago, I came across a post on an online forum with reference to this blog. The user kindly linked A Tolkienist’s Perspective to the post, under the heading “… very interesting Tolkien blogs”.

However, the user also went on to say about the blog:

“I think it’s a bit of a stretch to call yourself a tolkienist when you are so enthusiastic about the films”.The Two Towers illustration

But is it really such a stretch?

I have nothing against this individual whatsoever – and am thankful he or she posted the link to this blog. I also think there’s nothing wrong with what was written.

However, what confuses me is: why does someone have to be either a “tolkienist” or a “fan of the films”? Why can’t they be both?

I admit that it is thanks to Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings that I am here, right now, writing this post.

Without seeing The Fellowship of the Ring back in 2001, I would never have picked up a book (let alone a set of Tolkien books filled with thousands of pages of material, strange names and unimaginably-complex storylines).

Neither would I have created this blog.The Two Towers Poster

It is perfectly possible to be able to separate  the books from their adaptations. I’m both a film fan in general and an ardent reader.

As a Tolkienist, I appreciate the works of the author as they stand – and the way they were supposed to be read.

As a Ringer (or a fan of the Middle-earth films), I am able to enjoy someone else’s vision of these stories and differentiate the two when necessary.

This is not to say that the two are perfect.

Especially when it comes to The Hobbit Trilogy, I do find certain directorial, scripting, and filmmaking choices in general, not quite suitable with what Tolkien had intended.

lotr booksAt the same time, when reading Tolkien I can understand why Peter Jackson and his team made certain changes – changes which bettered the concepts or ideas the author didn’t fully manage to convey in his books.

And yet, I can’t see myself without the two. I can’t read Tolkien without imagining settings, character faces, costumes, etc,  without thinking of the sounds and visuals from the films.

Likewise, I can’t see the films without picturing the intricate histories and expansive narratives found in the books – extensively enhancing the scope and depth of the films.

I’m not a purist, and I don’t think anyone truly is.

Therefore, I am not ashamed to say that I am a proud Tolkienist and a fan of the films.

Good day! :)

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48 thoughts on “Are you … a Tolkienist or a Ringer?

  1. Me, too. Exactly the same — I’d never have read LOTR had I not seen the films. That said, I wouldn’t call myself a Tolkienist or a Ringer because I don’t know enough about Middle Earth stuff in general — but IMO each has its strengths and weaknesses and each is to be admired on its own merits.

    • Well said! :)

      As to the terminologies, I never viewed the term “Tolkienist” as referring to someone who knows Tolkien in intricate detail.

      But rather, someone who seeks to discover more than simply the story and skimming the surface of the written page; but rather explores the concepts and ideas behind the works themselves.

  2. I first learned of LOTR in sixth grade from a fellow classmate who was a fantasy fan, which led me to explore The Hobbit, the Silmarillion and the Elvish language long before there were ideas for a film series. On the surface, that classifies me as a “Tolkienist”, but I’ve hardly studied deep enough to fulfill that role.

    Instead, I feel like your blog offers a more in-depth probing of Tolkien’s world than anything I’ve personally done. (Actually, I was certain you were a Tolkienist after reading the opening sentence of this post.) And I’m a big fan of the movies as well—so would that make me a Ringer-stained Tolkienist or you a Tolkienist-influenced Ringer?

    If you’re passionate enough about something to want to learn more about it, then it shouldn’t matter what/where/when sparked that passion, I think. We can all live in harmony within our own rings of influence. Troublesome things come when one ring wants absolute say over what’s right or wrong.

    (Pardon my clumsy analogy, I’m a bit rusty with my LOTR.) ;)

    • No worries, great analogy! Lovely comments there Penny :)

      I guess one could always subdivide the terms “Tolkienist” and “Ringer” into further sub-categories as you did, but I’m pretty sure that “Tolkienist” can be assumed by anyone.

      I don’t see it as an academic term whereby you have to accomplish so much studying (or write so many papers on the subject) to be worthy of it.

      I’ve always seen a Tolkienist as someone whose love for the books exceeds that of a normal reader. Hence, reading the works roughly once a year and occasionally seeing “patterns” and similarities in real-day life with the stories, is sufficient enough for that individual to be referenced as a Tolkienist.

      At least, in my opinion :)

      • Hear, hear!

        Incidentally, have you ever read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins? It’s not a fantasy (more of an epistolary mystery), but there’s a character in there who religiously reads Robinson Crusoe and takes its passages as a guide to everyday life. Your comment just reminded me of that. (I guess he’d be a Defoeist? Defoian?) =)

      • I’ll certainly check it out, sounds intriguing! Thanks for the heads up and yeah, I guess one would be a Defoian of sorts, hehe!

  3. Very much in agreement with you there. I watched P. Jackson’s films countless times particularly between the ages of 9-13 and when I was 14, I played Merry in an on-stage production of LOTR. Without these experiences, I KNOW that I would never have fallen in love with the entire Legendarium from the Hobbit to Unfinished Tales and everything in between. I’m sure this is the case for so many around the world. If PJ’s films weren’t made or hadn’t been so good, thousands, if not millions of people would never have picked up a Tolkein book to see where it started or to try to clear some things up.

    BUT, my personal belief now is that because PJ’s trilogy was not only so good, but commercially successful, that either no-one will have the guys to make another series with some different interpretations ever (or for many year) OR some studio will try to jump on the bandwagon in 10-15 years and butcher LOTR.
    Inadvertently, while the PJ trilogy has resulted in droves of new fans discovering Middle-Earth, it was so good that no legitimate or original re-boot/re-direction will happen any time soon. Which is a pity because so much different aspects or approaches could be taken.
    END OF RANT

    • Hah thanks for your “rant” John! But I believe you speak the truth regarding re-boots and the commercial success of the trilogy.

      Let us hope that LOTR (and perhaps TH) will remain untouched by Hollywood for many years to come … :)

  4. Reblogged this on Confessions of a Geek Queen and commented:
    This individual strikes me as a hipster. S/he thinks s/he is cool for not liking what the mainstream likes. I call these individuals “rebels without a clue.” They just want to be seen as rebelling. By this they imply that they are thinking, intelligent people; because thinking, intelligent people *never* like anything mainstream. I think that believing that is a good way to cut off your nose to spite your face, and you become just as much a slave to the overculture as those who blindly embrace whatever the media releases. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not liking the films – I have a friend I correspond with through roleplaying games and Spelljammer material who is adamantly opposed to them – but thinking that this somehow makes you “elite” is a childish self-delusion that is more suitable to high school politics than adult discussions on literature. Your answer to this is, you’re writing for Middle-Earth News. This person is not. :)

  5. This individual strikes me as a hipster. S/he thinks s/he is cool for not liking what the mainstream likes. I call these individuals “rebels without a clue.” They just want to be seen as rebelling. By this they imply that they are thinking, intelligent people; because thinking, intelligent people *never* like anything mainstream. I think that believing that is a good way to cut off your nose to spite your face, and you become just as much a slave to the overculture as those who blindly embrace whatever the media releases. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not liking the films – I have a friend I correspond with through roleplaying games and Spelljammer material who is adamantly opposed to them – but thinking that this somehow makes you “elite” is a childish self-delusion that is more suitable to high school politics than adult discussions on literature. Your answer to this is, you’re writing for Middle-Earth News. This person is not. :)

    • Hey Sable, thanks for the feedback :)

      I agree that every individual has every right to like or dislike the films for whatever reason.

      “Your answer to this is, you’re writing for Middle-Earth News. This person is not. :)”

      Hehe! Much appreciated :)

  6. I think that was a pretty insulting thing for that person to say about your blog. Like to them you’re not a “true fan” of the books if you’re not snobbishly disappointed in the movies. Like there can be room in a fan’s heart for love of only one version of a story. It’s an example of gatekeeping, which always raises my hackles.

    Man, I’ve been a Tolkienist since I was a toddler. I also get excited about the movies. They’re beautiful. I’ve got no time for anyone who looks down on me for that.

  7. Alyssa, I think you’ve pin-pointed precisely the way I see many avid fans of the books (these so-called “purists).

    To these people, it seems that part of the “code” to being a fan of Tolkien is to despise and argue against the “changes” made to the films. But if you accept these changes, then you cannot possibly be a fan of the books (?!)

    As to that individual who posted the comment, as I said, I have nothing against him/her and thought it a nice gesture for linking the blog. But yes, the last part of the sentence felt strange and redundant – a feeling which I noticed in many others and therefore “inspired” me to write this post.

    You’re a Tolkienist, I’m a Tolkienist. We’re both a fan of the films … yay to that! :D

  8. Although I do agree with your sentiment I think there are many more issues here at hand than just the question “can I be one or the other only?” That question is easy to answer, of course you can. Who would have you not like both? It is your personal decision and that is, as the term already infers, your own choice to make.

    However, one of the most often used lines in “Tolkien fandom” in the last fifteen years is

    “I’d never have read LOTR had I not seen the films”

    and I just can’t understand it.

    Yes, this is your very own way how you came to read the books (which is awesome, don’t get me wrong) but let’s be honest – the success of the film trilogies isn’t only based on PJ but because he and his team knew they would film the single most successful novel of the 20th century. It’s not as if LotR needed the attention, it was the other way around.

    So if you like fantasy books, stories, characters and the films hadn’t happened – you would never have come across the single most important book of that genre? You would _never_ have read “The Lord of the Rings?”

    Imagine an alternative universe in which the films hadn’t happened. You wouldn’t have read that book? Never? Not even to dislike it? :D

    The reason why this “Tolkienist” and “Ringer” thing exists is a generational and a technological issue – the “older” fans don’t often care for the films, particularly not the Hobbit film trilogy, and the digital revolution has brought a new fan experience into existence which is unlike the experience everyone else has ever had until 2001 (see Facebook, reddit etc.)

    You simply read the book. End of story. (Well, it’s not quite that simple but basically it was.)

    And whether you read the books first or watch the films first changes your perspective on Tolkien, on Middle-earth, on the stories and characters.

    Unfortunately, those very different, disparate, heterogenous groups will never get together (at least, that’s my impression) – there is a huge gap between the old and the new.

    I’d love to see them come together at some point. But be a Ringer? I can’t. If we have to come up with “terms” to define “groups” – which really doesn’t work well on an individual – that is one which is just not for me. Which is okay. Everybody has her/his own ways to go about life and that’s a good thing. To me the books come first, always.

    I’ve tried to write about the whole “purism” issue but by now I believe it is just being kept alive by the media to pit fandoms against each other – so I’ll have to rewrite it soon, I assume. That kind of stuff simply didn’t exist before the films, afaik, and it’s a direct result of the hate culture spread via online forums and social networks. You loved Tolkien and watched Star Wars and Star Trek and the old BG and whatever – you didn’t go about dissing other fandoms. Well, you made fun of each other, of course ;) , but not to the extent I am sometime seeing in forums today.

    Thanks for the post, James, it really helps me in understanding a different view on things.

    On the purism issue – see my blog post:

    http://www.thetolkienist.com/2012/09/27/why-the-film-purists-and-the-book-purists-will-never-understand-each-other-on-how-not-to-appreciate-peter-jacksons-work/

    • Hey Marcel! I’m glad you submitted your input to this post. You’ve certainly given a very deep and intriguing reply.

      Allow me to kindly respond ;)

      “the success of the film trilogies isn’t only based on PJ but because he and his team knew they would film the single most successful novel of the 20th century.”
      They certainly knew. But did they know also it would be such a huge success?

      From my perspective, had I read LoTR prior to the films, I would have been confused, bewildered and put off my the immense scope of it all. The films are an “easier” and gradual passage to the more complex literary Middle-earth.

      “So if you like fantasy books, stories, characters and the films hadn’t happened – you would never have come across the single most important book of that genre? You would _never_ have read “The Lord of the Rings?””
      The thing is, if I hadn’t seen The Lord of the Rings as a film, I would never have picked up a book for leisure reading – let alone fantasy novels at that.

      Certainly, in the long run, as I grew older I would probably have attempted to read it. And if I did, I would have found it interesting and stopped there. Read it once at not delve into it or the other associated stories.

      “And whether you read the books first or watch the films first changes your perspective on Tolkien, on Middle-earth, on the stories and characters.”
      This I have absolutely no question about it. You hit the nail on its head. I can personally say that by having read LOTR after the films, and seen The Hobbit after the book. What comes first definitely affects the whole experience.

      “That kind of stuff simply didn’t exist before the films, afaik, and it’s a direct result of the hate culture spread via online forums and social networks.”
      I’m pretty sure you’re right about Purism. It seems more of a way to market certain aspects between the literary and cinematic, rather than it actually existing. Though I still believe there are some hardcore book fans who are over-protective of Tolkien’s work and restrict one’s ability to perceive them in different contexts.

      Thanks for posting your link here as I think it is very relevant to the whole point of the post. Meanwhile, I look forward to your “rewriting” on the Purism subject ;)

      *This has been such a stimulating discussion :) *

      • I can only second that.

        I would be very happy to believe that the old and the new and the different ways on how to approach and appreciate Tolkien will provide all of us with a richer, more meaningful experience while reading his stories or seeing them unfold on the big screen! This is one of the reasons why I came up with a concept like Ring*Con with my buddy Stefan which has now become Europe’s biggest fantasy film convention and we’re getting all of the fandoms together :)

        So it does work if you are willing and able to enjoy those different ways of expressing creativity.

        Although I have to say HobbitCon with a bunch of dwarves is something special. ;)

        And Richard Taylor *sigh*

      • RingCon was your idea? That’s fantastic! You’ve come a long way and you certainly seem to be bridging that gap between the books and the films … I think it’s splendid :)

      • Well, yes, after founding the German TS and realising how many great new people would come to love Tolkien with the films (and yes, I would like to say with the thought of offering them an easy approach to Tolkien and his life and works which the films wouldn’t offer!) I thought it’d be awesome to have a convention.

        Some strange, weird event organiser came up to me and asked “how about doing ComicCon, just with Tolkien?” and I thought … naaaa…. we need something substantial, something which would involve lectures, workshops, presentations, actors and experts, all of them rolled into one. So I was the “literature and workshop” guy and Stefan became the “film” guy as he runs herr-der-ringe-film.de, the biggest German-speaking film website (and he was in New Zealand during filming!) and we thought – we should have some fun! However you approach Tolkien.

        Now, I would always say the books come first. I am sorry but nothing and nobody is better than Tolkien to me and the trilogies, particularly the Hobbit, get many many things horribly wrong. But then the people in the background like WETA Workshop, the designers have done such a great job to aesthetically please …

        Well, we all could write books about this, couldn’t we? :) Because we simply love it. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here.

        And again I’d like to stress – reading Tolkien first or watching the PJ films will change your perception, I am 100% sure. I don’t know to what extent or in which way but it will …

        Thanks for the post, it really is a stimulation discussion.

    • Some of us tried to read the LOTR books as teens and gave up. Just sayin’ (I’m 45). I’m definitely in the group who came to the books only b/c of the films — and I went to the first film because a former student dragged me there. Not everyone who reads LOTR falls into the category of people who read a lot of fantasy books (I don’t).

      • Haha, thanks for mentioning this, Servetus. And no, in my post I claim no exclusivity on all possible solutions and approaches to Tolkien, of course. I am quite sure there were quite a few fans of Tolkien before the films and we’ve added quite a few thanks to the film trilogies and all of them have a story to tell! And I am very glad to so many new people are out there enjoying how Tolkien inspired so much creativity …

        My reason for falling for Tolkien was a sunburn. Holidays, sunburn the first day. Had to stay indoors. The only thing to do was to read this weird book ;) So, no, I hadn’t started reading fantasy books at the time, mostly historical fiction and crime novels. Which I still love.

        I assumed – and I would still do so – that with the rise of fantasy literature with series such as Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire (and even thought they aren’t really worth reading, Twilight and Eragon) and of course the film versions of Middle-earth and Narnia a rather huge group of people reading tons of fantasy is be out there. Their approaches on how to go about it creatively is very different though because LARP, cosplay, roleplaying (both board- an online) and all other versions of this demand different abilities and follow different interests and likings.

        And yes, I have met many who gave up, particularly with the Elvish Phonebook (also known as “The Silmarillion” ;)

  9. I read this post few days ago, promising to myself to leave a comment, but then I totally forgot it. However, I’m here thanks to Peter Jackson, too and I totally agree with your thoughts.
    I don’t care if people say I’m not a real fan of the Professor because I watched the movies first, and I had never heard about LotR books before. We know what Middle-earth means for us, and how influenced our lives in a positive way. This is what counts.
    Anyway, here is the post I wrote a while ago with ‘story’, if you are interested (apologize in advance for the typos!): http://www.alicegreenleaf.com/2013/11/thats-how-it-goes-sometimes.html
    I’ve just started following your blog, but I really like it :)

    • Hey Alice, thanks so much for the feedback and for following! :)

      I agree 100% with you. As long as Middle-earth has some significance for us, it doesn’t matter whether it’s just the books or the films (or both), as long as they enhance our lives.

      Oh and thanks for the link you provided – absolutely beautiful post! I can strongly relate to the same experiences :)

      Thank you!

  10. Sorry it took me so long to reply to this post, James.

    I, too, am both Tolkienist and Ringer. I see no reason why one cannot truly be both, and I have grown very weary of that debate, particularly since ‘The Hobbit’ films’ release. I have read ‘The Hobbit’ and LOTR many, many times, starting at age 8. Certainly the films aren’t perfect, but I am deeply grateful to Peter Jackson and his team for bringing Middle-earth to life on the screen.

    Thanks for your post!

  11. I became a Tolkien fan after watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy back to back. Before then, I never knew of (what can only be described as) the beautiful spirit of Tolkien’s world. Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy succeeds because it was able to convey that “spirit” to me and make me feel an indescribable feeling towards Tolkien’s world that has turned into an endless love for it. I don’t know if I’m making sense here, but it’s just so hard for me to get across to you that there’s something so special about his world that separates it from other created worlds. I don’t even really like using the term “fan” because it makes Tolkien’s world sound like just another made up fantasy world. Anyway, my point is that the LOTR movies carry the same spirit as Tolkien’s books, which is why I was able to have an instantaneous love for Tolkien’s world after only watching the movies. The new Hobbit trilogy carries the spirit of Tolkien I think, but for me it doesn’t matter anyway. For me, the Hobbit is just another opportunity to spend time in Tolkien’s world. My view of Tolkien’s world involves everything which carries the spirit of Tolkien’s world, so Tolkien’s works and Jackson’s movies are what I see as Tolkien’s world. Tolkien’s books and Jackson’s movies transcend the form of books and movies for me, they are doorways to a beautiful, amazing world. I care not for reviewing Tolkien’s books as literary pieces based on techniques and conventions, nor do I care for responding to Jackson’s movies based on how good they are technically in a movie-making sense. However, it is probably due to the fact that the books are written so well and the movies made so well that I am able to enter into Tolkien’s world through them. I don’t even know to be honest. Again, I find it impossible to describe this feeling I have for Tolkien’s world, and I think it’s funny that the English language is too limited when speaking about the impact Tolkien’s world has on me. I’m curious as to if anyone feels similar to me in what I’ve tried (and probably failed( to describe above. Let me know if you concur or not :)

    • Jaime, I’m going to repeat what Alyssa just said above “Hear! Hear!”

      I cant honest understand you perfectly – even those indescribable moments ;)

      What you have – and are – going through is exactly the way I’ve experienced my journey since seeing the LOTR trilogy.

      This makes me wonder … could we somehow be related? :D

      Thanks once again for this amazing comment!

      • Possibly related in the sense that we both are lucky enough to feel the way we do about Tolkien’s world. I kind of feel sorry for people who don’t experience the love we share for such an indescribable world.
        Thank you for your replies!

        Le hannon. No i Melain na le!

  12. I would like to say I agree being a fan of both books and films is perfectly acceptable. Jackson made a very wonderful trilogy with LOTR and it was largely true to the spirit of Tolkien, they are my favorite films of all time, i truly love them. But unfortunately the Hobbit films have cheapened the book and transformed it into a popcorn blockbuster travesty. It has mislaid poor Bilbo and is hardly recognizable. Anyone who is inspired to read the hobbit after watching these films wil be sorely disappointed when they find that theres no Legolas, Tauriel, Azog, Radagast, Saruman or Galadriel in the original book. They will see al the whimsy and charm, the Elven lights in the forest and wonder if its really the same story.

    • Hi Ferniesapple! Thank you so much for your feedback :)

      You make a very interesting point which focuses on the effects of viewing the films or reading the books first.

      Personally, when I first saw The Lord of the Rings films, they were the perfect guide in making the books an accessible and highly enjoyable experience. Noticing the changes made to the films, wasn’t such a “big deal” for me.

      Now, with The Hobbit – having read the book first – I feel like I am much more critical of the changes in the films, but at the same time, still respect it for what it is attempting to do.

      I wonder what others think: especially those who have yet to read the Hobbit and have only seen the films so far. Whether they go through the same reading experience I had with LOTR.

      It’s highly fascinating, me thinks … :)

      • Hi James. I was so excited at the prospect of PJ directing the Hobbit, but it became clear to me when I fist clapped eyes on the design of the Dwarves that things (for me at least) felt wrong, it was a case of looking fair but feeling foul. What! no coloured hoods? Anyway AUJ started quite well until the shift in focus from Bilbo to Thorin and the never ending Azog chase scenes *rolls eyes* . i highly recommend people actually read The Hobbit first before they watch the films, get a real sense of the beauty of Tolkiens message and gentle humour before they watch the glossy and a bit empty films. the films . I say empty because poor little Bilbo hardly gets any dialogue. I wish very much that one day a smaller quieter more intimate version of the Hobbit is made.

      • I can honestly understand the way you feel.

        I experienced similar thoughts when I first saw AUJ.

        However – either because I learnt to accept that this was an adaptation (and not strictly faithful to the book) or through some form of denial – I’ve grown accustomed to some of the nagging things.

        Indeed, the more I see the two Hobbit films, the more I seem to enjoy them and accept some of the fake CGI moments or unnecessary non-canon additions.

        But that’s just me. If only everyone experience these films the same way …

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