Since I love this book so much I wrote to the authors right after reading it and hope this interview sheds some more light on what to expect from this book. It is a big size coffee table book, full of art reproductions and amazing tales. There is something for everyone here. If you love the movie adapatations by Peter Jackson, you get a nice deal of that. If you love Middle-earth inspired art, you will not be dissapointed. If you like the history of the rise of fame of Tolkien, there is something here for you. Just read the interview and hit the order button below! Highly recommended and as said the perfect gift!
Interview with Paul Simpson and Brian J. Robb about Middle-earth Envisioned
TL. Hello Paul Simpson and Brian J. Robb, I would love to talk about your book Middle-earth Envisioned, how did you two meet each other and end up writing a book together?
PS: We've both been writers, journalists and editors for many years. I edited the unofficial SF magazine DreamWatch in the late 90s when Brian was working for Titan Magazines (he was covering Babylon 5 officially when we were doing it unofficially, which sort of made us rivals!) When I went freelance in 2000, Brian was Managing Editor of Titan Magazines, and I worked for him as a writer for a few years before he brought me in to edit a DreamWatch special in 2006. At the same time he needed an editor for Star Trek Magazine, and that's when we really started to work together. After we both left Titan, we set up Sci-Fi Bulletin, along with another former Titan employee Matt McAllister, and have cross-edited each other's books.
Middle-earth Envisioned became a joint project when the delivery date was moved forward, and I knew that I couldn't do it on my own in the time available; Brian was the obvious person to ask to come aboard.
BJR: Our working relationship had continued beyond our time together at Titan as we both recognised that we (respectively) knew our stuff on the topics we were working on, while also not being afraid to criticise (in a positive way) the other when we knew that the text could be improved. As we were both working on various book projects, it was really useful to read and contribute to the development of our various individual projects. Working on Sci-Fi Bulletin kept us in regular contact, and when Paul hit a deadline crunch with the Middle-earth book, I was happy to step in and pick up the slack to ensure the project met its deadlines.
TL. The book has turned out big, coffee table size, it counts 223 pages and looks like a picture gift book, was this the original idea?
PS: We certainly expected it to be a large illustrated book, but the scale of this exceeded what we could ever have expected.
BJR: We were so focused on the writing, that other than offering some suggestions, the illustrated side of things really fell to the publishers. It came as something of a welcome and pleasant surprise when we realised just how ambitious they were going to be when it came to securing unique and—in some cases—never before seen imagery for the book.
TL. I just finished reading your book Middle-earth Envisioned, or better just finished it a second time. The first time I just went through looking at the images and I must say it is impressive! Even by just browsing the pages you get a nice view of how much tolkien's work inspired people. Whose idea was it to write this tale?
PS: It was my project initially; I was in discussions with the original editor, Grace Labatt, about a different idea after working with the publishers on a conspiracy book, That's What They Want You to Think. Although the project we talked about hasn't yet materialized (and therefore I can't talk any more about it yet), the idea of something on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings came up in discussion. It took a very long time to get off the ground, during which time it moved from Grace to our current editor, Jeannine Dillon, by which point it needed to be done very quickly to get out in time for the second Hobbit film.
BJR: The project had been developed by Paul, but when he brought me on board we tinkered a little with the structure of the text and divided the work between us to play to each of our relative strengths. For example, I was fascinated by the early attempts to film the Tolkien books, while Paul knew a lot more about the various theatrical versions than I did.
TL. Before I continue, I was also very impressed by the cover art by Wes Talbott! It is an impressive piece of art that seems to be made especially for this book?
PS: That was arranged by Jeannine, our editor.
TL. The book tells the story of many different topics, with one common link... people get inspired by Tolkien. But to me, after reading the book, it seems you both must be Tolkien fans yourselves. When did you encounter Tolkien?
PS: I'm not sure I would call myself a "fan" of Tolkien; I have read and enjoyed both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and seen the films, but I don't delve into all the different arcane elements of the books. I read both books when I was younger.
BJR: I don't know when I first heard about Tolkien and his works, but I read The Hobbit as a child and then The Lord of the Rings as a teenager in the early-1980s. This was also when the famous Radio 4 version of the book was first broadcast, and that-almost more than the novels themselves-really captured my imagination and led me deeper into tolkien's worlds. I've since re-read the trilogy several times, the last time in the run-up to the first Peter Jackson movie, more than a decade ago.
TL. I guess since the J.R.R. Tolkien centenary celebrations we have not seen a book like these being released. It was about time! What was the inspiration to create this book?
PS: Being asked to come up with an idea for something that hasn't been done before! One of my first books was The Bond Files, which looked at 007 in all the different media, and there are quite a few franchises which lend themselves to this approach.
TL. There are several topics inside, we have a biography, description of the books, audio adaptations, television adaptations, comics, games, art, video games, film adaptations, music, ... how did you go about to choose what should be in and what would be left out?
PS: Space, basically. We had a limited word count, and a finite budget for illustrations. We did try to provide a complete overview even if we couldn't give details or pictures of everything.
BJR: We had a set number of pages and that dictated a set word count. Within that we had to balance covering everything with what would make for great imagery and what was available. We could have done a lot more on some of the peripheral areas, such as computer games and LEGO, but felt it was enough to provide an overview rather than go into the depth given to some of the major adaptations.
TL. At first I was a bit lost seeing several topics being repeated in different chapters, but then realized the first part was about The Hobbit and then all things inspired by The Lord of the Rings, in the film chapter yet another overlap was made. How did you choose the order of the book or did you each pick topics to write about?
PS: As we hoped the contents page made clear, it deals, as you say, with The Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings in the period before the Jackson films. We then dealt with the Jackson films, and it was logical to cover them in chronological order. When it became a joint project, we looked at the topics and chose the ones we felt we knew more about initially, and then divided the rest up.
The sidebars were contributed by various experts in the fields they wrote about – all people we had worked with in our magazine editing days – to provide a larger focus on some elements (such as the animated Hobbit, or the effect on the New Zealand tourist industry of the Jackson films) which would overbalance the text otherwise.
TL. Another, but quite logical thing that I noticed is that some topics are far bigger, like for example movie adaptations and some are smaller. Did this happen because of interest of because of the amount of information you found about it?
PS: Topics were given the weight we felt they deserved – the Jackson films were of course of primary interest to many people, but the book needed to be balanced.
TL. There must have been put a lot of hours of research in this book. What was the hardest part to put this book together?
PS: Just that – the research in the time we had to get it done.
TL. It is nice to see you have taken an neutral perspective and so are able to give both positive and negative reactions. Also, when available tolkien's take on things are reported. It must be difficult to write this way, since I'm certain there are things inside this book you like and others you don't.
PS: We were reporting on what happened, not our opinions of it. It's not difficult to write this way at all: we weren't reviewing the material, we were presenting it to a wider audience for them to make their minds up. One thing that I'm very proud of during my time editing Star Trek Magazine is that no-one could tell from the contents which of the different films or TV series I liked or disliked – my job as editor was to produce something that appealed to fans of all elements.
BJR: I agree. I think that comes from our time as magazine editors, often on licensed official tie-in product where opinion is not what's needed. The idea was to capture the full scope of the works inspired by tolkien's books, and hopefully along the way introduce some elements that some readers may not have encountered before.
TL. What topics where the most pleasing to write about and what were the most difficult?
PS: I could give you a "it was all fun" kind of answer, but pleasing or difficult didn't enter into it.
BJR: A sense of discovery is always good in writing a book like this, so while the Peter Jackson films are well known, some of the earlier efforts have been little written about, so putting that together was very interesting and I think being engaged like that improves the writing.
TL. A lot of ground has been covered, but of course there are many more artists and plays and other fields that could have been put in?
PS: Of course – but whenever you write this sort of book, you're constrained by the logistics of the situation: how much time, how many words, how many pictures can be obtained.
TL. Another thing that I noticed and wondered about is the art inside the book. How did you choose where to add what?
PS: That was down to our editor, Jeannine, and the terrific lady who sourced the material, Lesley Hodgson. We made suggestions, but she went way beyond what we expected.
TL. As for the art, you did manage to bring the tale of Mary Fairburn and even did reproduced several of her works of art. That is quite impressive!
PS: Totally agree with you.
BJR: Mary Fairburn was someone I came across in researching some of the art inspired by Tolkien (which was not a section I was supposed to be writing initially, but I got a little carried away). It was an interesting tale, with a direct connection to Tolkien, so I thought it was worthwhile on that basis alone. I never thought our publisher would both uncover the art and arrange for it to be published for the first time, so that was an amazing bonus that really adds to the unique selling point of this book.
TL. At several points in the book I was hoping to be able to push a play button and see for example the Russian The Hobbit adaptation or hear Nimoy's Bilbo. But I guess your book will open up the gate for many Google searches! A lot of things to discover... or perhaps ask the BBC to turn this book into a documentary?
PS: I imagine the rights for that would be a nightmare to untangle!
TL. Of all works inspired by Tolkien, what is the most precious to you?
PS: Being a musician at heart, it's some of the songs that have been inspired. I've conducted performances of Donald Swann's song cycle, The Road Goes Ever On long before this book was conceived, and hope to do so again. I also absolutely adore the spoof musical Shire! (which we pay tribute to at the end of the acknowledgements!) and I really hope to get to see a performance of it some day.
BJR: I have to say, despite the impact of the Jackson movies, my favourite is still the BBC Radio 4 version: it just caught me at the right time and helped create a lifelong love of audio drama.
TL. This book sort of reminds me of the Tolkien exhibitions I went to in 1992 and really pushed me out of my hobbit hole to go and explore more about Tolkien. The diversity of art and things inspired by Tolkien set me out to learn more about it all. I believe your book can have the same effect. Where do you place your book?
PS: I would hope it will inspire people to look for more work by the same artists, and perhaps go back and reassess some of the pieces which came before Peter Jackson's trilogies.
BJR: I think it is the kind of book that could open readers' eyes not only to the works inspired by Tolkien but to other work undertaken by those same people away from the arena of Middle-earth. There's always something new to explore or a new tangent to go off in, given the right inspiration.
TL. What are the things you found out during the writing of this book that surprised you the most?
PS: For me, it was some of the instruments that were used for the stage show – I had a fascinating conversation with Anne Lindsay about them.
TL. Now you wrote this book do you think you could give us an answer to the (impossible) question why so many across the globe do love tolkien's works?
PS: They speak to the imagination with creatures of such fantastical complexity, without being divorced from human emotions and feeling.
BJR: The epic nature of the story, and the depth in which Tolkien created his world, is that is so impressive about it, and I think that gets people interested and keeps them coming back.
TL. And can you also understand tolkien's feelings against illustration and adaptations of his work?
PS: I think it's like the old saying that "the pictures are better on radio". I don't think Tolkien ever believed that what he saw in his head could ever be brought to life – I would have been interested to know what his reaction to the Jackson movies would have been.
TL. Do you think Peter Jackson's movies sort of killed people's inspiration or do you think in the end it will open up even bigger?
PS: Inspired more people, I'm sure!
TL. What is the hope for your work?
PS: That lots of people buy it and discover elements of the Tolkien world that they didn't know about before.
TL. As Tolkien lovers and writing about games, artists, audio adaptations, ... you must have a nice collection at home of all things Tolkien, right?
PS: Sorry to disappoint you, but no – I have a larger Tolkien library now as a result of working on this book, though.
BJR: Actually, it was a good chance to put a lot of stuff I'd collected through the years to good use—as is often the way on many of the books I write, as they tend to be on subjects I'm already interested in/immersed in.
TL. One final question, and perhaps a classic if you could ask J.R.R. Tolkien one question each, what would it be?
PS: JRR: What was it about Mary Fairburn's art that you really liked?
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