TL: Dear Andrew Murray, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a children’s writer, based in London, and I’m fortunate to have a children’s TV series in development. I’ve also had a couple of quiz books published, including The Tolkien Quiz Book. When not writing I’m keeping myself busy with a science degree, and getting outdoors – travel, bushcraft, survival, skiing – when I can!
TL: I'd like to talk about your book, The Tolkien Quiz Book. What prompted you to write the book?
I’d loved Tolkien’s world since childhood, but years ago I sprained my ankle and found myself crutch-bound for a month. I started making questions to amuse myself then realised, ‘Hang on, I could produce a book’s worth here!’
TL: When did you read The Hobbit for the first time, and was it love at first sight / read?
I must have been about seven – there was a Jackanory-type television version screening at the time – and yes I loved it straightaway. Like many kids of my age, Middle-earth, Narnia and Star Wars coloured my mental landscape.
TL: Did you read any other books by Tolkien and if so what is your favourite?
I must confess I haven’t read all the subsidiary collections. I couldn’t choose between LOTR and The Hobbit – they address the same world but with such different voices and tones, it’s hard to say. And Farmer Giles of Ham is great fun – and beautifully illustrated in sympathetically medieval style by Pauline Baynes.
TL: You must have really spent a long time discovering all tiny details that are hidden inside The Hobbit and other Tolkien books. How many times did you have to read the books?
I’ve only read the key works twice I think, first as a young child then as a teen, when all the information lodged more firmly in the brainbox. Compiling a quiz book is a matter of mining the works for specific details, rather than reading cover-to-cover – the indexes (indices?) and online resources become the question-setter’s best friends.
TL: It is amazing to see you managed to get 1200+ questions out of Tolkien and his works. Do you see yourself as a Tolkien expert now?
Hardly! - I reckon I’d be lucky to get much more than half my questions right now. I’m sure many people who have bought the book can do far better!
TL: Do you go to Tolkien events sometimes and take part in Tolkien quizzes? You must be the Tolkien trivia king by now?
I haven’t been to many tolkien-related events, alas, but am very open to suggestions. I do like a pub quiz I must say – my general knowledge is shallow yet broad, ideal for the pub quiz format!
TL: You are yourself an author of children books and have many other books out there, can you tell us a little about your other projects?
I’ve written a number of picturebooks, including the Buddy and Elvis series which I’m excited to say is in television development with the Illuminated Film Company. I’ve written a series called Ghost Rescue for early readers, and am currently developing a number of ideas for 9-12s and teens. Watch this space!
TL: Since you are yourself an author of children books, where do you place The Hobbit?
Up there with the greats of the children’s canon. It’s hard to improve on the Times Literary Supplement’s observation that ‘The Hobbit belongs to a very small class of books which have nothing in common save that each admits us to a world of its own.’ A world entire to lose ourselves in, like Alice, The Narnia Chronicles, and modern classics like Northern Lights or Holes.
TL: You have worked closely with many illustrators as well, some are truly brilliant! How do you feel about Tolkien as an illustrator?
Yes I’ve been so lucky to have some wonderful illustrators. Tolkien had his very particular, rather geometric, style of drawing landscapes and other designs which works extremely well for his world. I think it would be fair to say that he had his limitations when drawing people.
TL: And what about tolkien's own dustjacket design?
The Hobbit cover art which we all know and love can’t be improved on – mountains and sun, it’s a classic which looks just as good 75 years on.
TL: You probably already went to see The Hobbit movie by Peter Jackson, after having worked so closely with the book version how do you look towards the movie adaptation?
I’m a huge fan of what Peter Jackson has done with the movies so far – the LOTR films are the modern benchmark for epic fantasy on the screen. And I loved An Unexpected Journey, though it could have been trimmed a bit - I think Jackson is such a passionate fan that he can’t bear to leave anything out! There’s a clear adjustment of tone from book to film –for an audience familiar with the grand seriousness of LOTR, it would now be difficult to have Elves singing ‘Tra-la-la-lally’.
TL: Since you know all the tiny details, can you tell us what tiny details did make it into the movie that you noticed (and we did not) and what details you would have put in (that did not make it into the movie).
I’m sure you noticed everything I did – there are the obvious additions of witnessing Smaug’s destruction of Erebor (which is both breath-taking and wisely doesn’t show us too much of Smaug, so we are hungry to see more), and Radagast is charming on his Rhosgobel rabbit sledge, with bird poo on his head!
TL: Do you think that now that the movie of The Hobbit is here (we still need to see two more parts) you have to go and expand your book with some movie questions?
I would love to, if HarperCollins let me!
TL: I love the design of your book, who is the illustrator? And did you choose the Door of Moria to be there or how did this come together?
All the credit for that goes to David Brawn and the lovely folk at HarperCollins. The cover art is by Ted Nasmith, the perfect choice for a Quiz Book, what with Gandalf sitting there scratching his head…
TL: Just out of curiosity, do you have any Tolkien books in your house and what is your most precious one. For example what books did you use to write your Tolkien Quiz Book?
I’m very dull alas, I have the normal range of Tolkien titles but no rare and precious editions. The core titles were my main resource – also HarperCollins’ ‘Making of’ titles to get LOTR movie-related information. And the wealth of online Tolkien resources can be a wonderful boon.
TL: What do you love more, tolkien's works or the man behind the books?
I think Tolkien himself, quiet and self-effacing as he was, would have preferred us to look to his imagined world than to scrutinise his own 9 to 5. I’m sure he would have wanted the works to be the stars, and I would go along with that.
TL: One final question. If you could give people some advice on learning more about Tolkien and his works, where should they get started?
There’s a marvellous range of Tolkien resources on the web – other than that I would just say, read the books, see the films, play the role-playing game perhaps - and enjoy!
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