TEP #39 – Willie ‘Knewbettadobetta’ Jenkins

Our guest this week is a viral sensation on TikTok and has recently made the move to YouTube: Willie Jenkins!

Willie Jenkins is a super fan of Tolkien! He also has a magnetic personality and a desire to teach. These things have combined to make him a hit as he puts together short videos that summarize different characters or events from Tolkien’s work. With over 23,000 subscribers on TikTok and 3,000 subscribers on YouTube, he is known as Knewbettadobetta on both platforms, Willie is doing an excellent job making Tolkien’s work more approachable and accessible! I was really pleased to have the opportunity to interview him for this episode!

Willie did have a request from us: to help him get a better camera for his channel. If you can contribute, you can donate using Cashapp. His user name is $WillieJenkins.

Links to audio of this interview are below!

Video of this interview is available exclusively to our patrons on Patreon! Subscribing at $5/month gets you access to video interviews, behind-the-scenes information, early releases, and other bonus content!

Subscribe to the podcast via:

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Dimitra Fimi: A Scholar for our Time

Fair warning: In this post, I make a case that no one has asked me to make and which is full of bias because she was my PhD supervisor.


With Sunday’s announcement that Dr. Dimitra Fimi received the 2021 Tolkien Society Award for Outstanding Contribution, I thought I would take this opportunity to write a post about her.

I want to do a thought-experiment. I have nothing to do with deciding who gets the awards, but I want to set up a scenario in which I would make the case for Fimi to receive the award: What accolades would I highlight, and what would I include in building the case?

I think the first step is to acknowledge that she has edited Tolkien’s own work. She and Andrew Higgins co-edited Tolkien’s A Secret Vice, which they greatly expanded with vital context (including situating the work more thoroughly in Tolkien’s modern context and determining where the speech was originally given). This puts Fimi in a class of scholars that is already pretty exclusive, among others who have edited Tolkien like Verlyn Flieger, Christina Scull, Wayne G. Hammond, and Christopher Tolkien (who have all won the Outstanding Contribution Award in the past).

Next, I think it is important to consider Fimi’s own original scholarship. While I could write a lot here about her various articles and chapters, for brevity’s sake I will focus on one of her monographs. Her book Tolkien, Race and Cultural History is groundbreaking and revolutionary. It examines aspects of Tolkien’s work that had not been dealt with in this depth before and it has (and should continue to) change the way scholars write about Tolkien. I am not alone in considering it an essential piece of Tolkien criticism. The book won the 2010 Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies.

Apart from her own scholarship, which I have already established as of the highest quality, Fimi has also been very active in academia as an organizer, mentor, and supervisor. She currently serves as the co-directory of the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow, where she oversees programming about all aspects of fantasy literature. This includes hosting an annual conference on Fantasy, supervising PhD and MA candidates, and teaching courses about Tolkien, fantasy, and children’s literature regularly. This means that Fimi has had a personal influence on those entering the field of Tolkien scholarship that is almost as significant as that of her scholarship.

Finally, I think it is worth noting that Fimi is one of the most collegial and responsive scholars in the field today. She is constantly advising and giving feedback on projects by other scholars to help them improve their work. She sits on the editorial review boards of The Journal of Tolkien Research, Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, and the Literary Encyclopedia, as well as the advisory board for Walking Tree Publishers.

In sum, Fimi is the type of scholar that other scholars would do well to emulate. She has already had a profound impact on the field of Tolkien Studies, and I am sure that we will continue to see brilliant scholarship and leadership from her in the future.

This is very far from a complete catalogue of the multitude of publications, appearances, and lectures that Fimi has presented. It is not intended to be exhaustive; instead, the hope was to put together a succinct case for the award, and I hope I have done the thought experiment justice, I know this does not do justice to Fimi’s career.

In my view, there isn’t anyone more deserving of this award.

My earnest congratulations to her on a well-deserved recognition!


If you want to know more about how Fimi first encountered Tolkien’s work, she was our first guest on the Tolkien Experience Podcast!

You can see all of the winners for the 2021 Tolkien Society Awards on the Tolkien Society website.


On a personal note, I am still dumbfounded that Dimitra agreed to be my PhD supervisor, and it was a privilege to work with her. I know that this post has far too much bias to be credible, but the facts are there for everyone to examine.

Hannah’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (153)

This is one in a series of posts where the content is provided by a guest who has graciously answered five questions about their experience as a Tolkien fan.

To see the idea behind this project, or if you are interested in sharing your own, visit the project homepage. If you enjoy this series, please consider helping us fund the project using the support page.

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his artwork for this project. Prints are available on his website!

Now, on to Hannah’s responses:


1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

My dad read The Hobbit to me as a bedtime story during my childhood

2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

For sentimental reasons I love The Hobbit, but I think a lot of my favorite writing is in LotR. Everything there is so rich, multilayered, and well-considered. I like how he can deal with really dark and serious subjects but also have a jolly time without being blasè about the hard stuff.

3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

I taught literature, for a season, in Northern Iraq. I was teaching a group of 9th graders LotR around the same time that ISIS was growing in power and heading toward the area I was teaching in. Almost all of my students were Muslim and struggling with how they should react to other Muslims doing things that were so horrible in the name of their shared beliefs.

We were reading through the section where Gandalf is talking with Saruman about what they should do in response to Sauron’s rise to power. Saruman argues that they, being good, should join Sauron in order to influence him away from doing great evil, thus “lessening” the evil that he is inevitably going to do. Gandalf argues that they should stand against Sauron because that is what True Good would do. We had a long and lively class discussion about this and how it related to what they were dealing with in their real lives. It was good for them to see Gandalf disagree and even go against what the wisest and most knowledgeable of his order thought they should do. They felt empowered to be guided by their own moral compass rather than by what strong outside forces suggested.

I loved that Tolkien wrote something so powerful without knowing how far-reaching its messages would go. He wrote it with love and care because he loved and cared about it, not because he wanted to change the world. And yet he did. His writings have changed the world. I’ve seen it.

4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

Absolutley! I went from reading for fun, to reading to teach (i.e. doing lots of research into mythology, learning about Tolkien himself, actively seeking out themes) and now I am re-reading them, slowly, for the love of it.

5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

I do, frequently, but not to everyone. I don’t recommend it to people who are not interested in fantasy or taking on a long reading project. I might suggest The Hobbit or one of his shorter retellings, but his style is not for everyone. And that’s okay!

Tolkien Experience Podcast wins 2021 Tolkien Society Award for Best Online Content

Hello friends!

I wanted to take a moment and tell any of you who have not already heard that the Tolkien Experience Podcast has won the 2021 Tolkien Society Award for Best Online Content!

Sara Brown, Sarah Westvik and I are truly honored to receive this award and we are so thankful to the Tolkien Society and its members for their support of our podcast.

I wanted to thank my co-hosts Sara and Sarah for their hard work to make the show as excellent as it is, I could not do it without them! I also want to thank our supporters on Patreon who really stepped up earlier this year when we needed help to keep the show going! Without them, the show would have already ended, so they have literally made it possible for us to keep producing the podcast!

I also wanted to say that we were up against some pretty awesome competition, and that the Alliance of Arda, the Tolkien Art Index, TolkienBooks.us and the Music of Middle Earth podcast are all excellent, and you should check them out!

I also want to thank you, our readers for all of the support you have given me throughout the years, even before the podcast started.

I started the Tolkien Experience Project because I wanted to make a space for everyone to share their personal history with Tolkien’s work and its adaptations. I never dreamed it would become such a wonderful catalogue of fan experiences, or that people would genuinely want to hear a podcast about it! It was my early readers who told me that they wanted a podcast, and I am glad that I had the means to respond to that desire!

If you are reading this, thank you! Even if you don’t listen to the podcast and only read the text project, at this point the two enable each other to exist. We could not have built the one without the other, and we are so grateful for the support and encouragement we have received from each of you!

Finally, I wanted to say: Tolkien Experience is open for EVERYONE! I still hear people say things like “I don’t think my experience is interesting” or “My experience isn’t important”. And I want to take this opportunity to say that those thoughts are not true!

Your experience is wonderful, no matter what shape it takes! If you have read this far into the post, I am guessing that Tolkien has played at least some small part in your life. If so, then your experience of the work has probably helped to make you who you are, and that is a valuable, perhaps even miraculous, thing! If you haven’t shared your experience in the Project, I would love to hear it! I enjoy nothing more than email from people who want to talk Tolkien! So feel free to use my contact page at any time to send me a note!

You can go here to see all of the winners and nominees for this year’s awards!

Doug Hagler’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (152)

This is one in a series of posts where the content is provided by a guest who has graciously answered five questions about their experience as a Tolkien fan.

To see the idea behind this project, or if you are interested in sharing your own, visit the project homepage. If you enjoy this series, please consider helping us fund the project using the support page.

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his artwork for this project. Prints are available on his website!

Now, on to Doug Hagler’s responses:


1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

There was a passage from The Hobbit in my reading textbook in Middle School (the book also introduced me to A Wizard of Earthsea). I went to the library looking for the book, and found The Two Towers by the same author. I took that home and read it loved it, but was confused because so many characters were introduced without any explanation. Then I realized it was the second book in a trilogy written after The Hobbit. But by then I was already hooked.

2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

The depth. Just a brief example – learning that when Bilbo comes home to an auction of his possessions, it is because Tolkien was discussing with other scholars whether the Old English word that is the source of “auction” in English means something like an auction, or if it rather means ‘a mess.’ And so Tolkien ended his story with an auction that was also a mess. Or how the ents march because Tolkien was deeply disappointed with Shakespeare’s ‘march of the trees’, or the multiple layers of archaism in the Council of Elrond and how they are masterfully and intentionally used. Because of his scholarly background, Tolkien had a mastery of the English language, rather than the conventions of fiction, and it shows in so many hidden but extraordinary ways.

3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

Hunkering down to read The Fellowship of the Ring on a Friday, not able to sleep because of the Weathertop scenes that night, then reading through the rest of Saturday and moving on to the full trilogy that weekend. My parents occasionally coming in to ask whether I’d like food.

Also, the experience of seeing The Fellowship of the Ring on opening night. Still by far the most powerful experience I’ve had in a movie theater.

4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

Definitely. Every time I dig deeper, there is more there. It’s why I think he succeeded in his goal to create a new mythology.

I’ve also changed in my approach, in that I’ve come to understand the problems in his work and the worldview it sometimes represents. I now love it critically, where I used to love it uncritically, but I still love it.

5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

Absolutely. I recommend Tolkien’s work to everyone, even though I know his work isn’t necessarily for everyone. But for someone who is interested in a modern mythology for northern Europe, as well as a masterpiece of idiosyncratic fiction that was the labor of love of a scholar’s lifetime, there isn’t even a close second to Tolkien. 


You can read more from Doug Hagler on Twitter or his blog!

Tolkien Experience Podcast Shortlisted for Tolkien Society Awards 2021!

The Tolkien Society has released their shortlist for their 2021 awards, and my co-hosts and I are delighted and honored that the Tolkien Experience Podcast has made the shortlist for the Best Online Content category!

From the beginning, our goal with the podcast was to create a platform to celebrate the breadth and depth of Tolkien fandom. We wanted to foster a place where people can share their experiences with Tolkien, both praise and criticism.

We are so thankful to all of our guests who have shared their experiences with Tolkien and helped us more fully appreciate his impact on them and on our world.

If you want to see the complete shortlists, they are available here: Tolkien Society Awards 2021

I am humbled just to be nominated, and every nominee, in every category, has truly made the Tolkien community a better place this year, a year when, perhaps, we needed it more than ever.

Thank you,

-Luke

TEP #28 — Chris Vaccaro

Our guest this week is a consummate Tolkien scholar and academic: Chris Vaccaro!

Chris is the editor of two collections of scholarship about J.R.R. Tolkien: The Body in Tolkien’s Legendarium (2013) and Tolkien and Alterity (2017). He is also the organizer of the annual Tolkien in Vermont conference and a co-organizer of the Tolkien at Kalamazoo group, which organizes conference panels and an annual symposium. His current project is co-editing another edited collection of essays: Queer Tolkien.

Links to audio of this interview are below!

Video of this interview is available exclusively to our patrons on Patreon! Subscribing at $5/month gets you access to video interviews, behind-the-scenes information, early releases, and other bonus content!

Subscribe to the podcast via:

Please consider supporting the Podcast on Patreon!

Comments or questions:

  • Visit us at Facebook or Twitter
  • Comment on this blog post
  • Send us an e-mail from the contact page
  • Email TolkienExperience (at) gmail (dot) com

Simone’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (151)

This is one in a series of posts where the content is provided by a guest who has graciously answered five questions about their experience as a Tolkien fan.

To see the idea behind this project, or if you are interested in sharing your own, visit the project homepage. If you enjoy this series, please consider helping us fund the project using the support page.

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his artwork for this project. Prints are available on his website!

Now, on to Simone’s responses:


1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

My parents really liked the movies. But I was a rebellious child even before my teens and decided that if my parents liked it, I did not. However when being “forced” to watch it during family time, I fell in love. The next day I started reading The Hobbit!

2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

The Pelennor Fields

3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

I met my best friend through our shared love for Tolkien and I will be forever grateful.

4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

Definitely, I read The Hobbit when I was 9 and while I loved it, I Definitely missed things as children do. (Also because I first read the books in Dutch)

5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

Yes absolutely. Tolkien’s world is so vast and beautiful I want everyone to experience it. However I always tell people that its okay to not like his writing style/if they have to get used to it. I love it, but not everyone has to.

Fredrik’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (150)

This is one in a series of posts where the content is provided by a guest who has graciously answered five questions about their experience as a Tolkien fan.

To see the idea behind this project, or if you are interested in sharing your own, visit the project homepage. If you enjoy this series, please consider helping us fund the project using the support page.

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his artwork for this project. Prints are available on his website!

Now, on to Fredrik’s responses:


1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

A friend introduced me to the Swedish tabletop roleplaying game “Drakar och Demoner” and since I enjoyed it he suggested that I should read The Hobbit and LOTR. I was about 9-10 at the time and really liked the books.

2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

I must say LOTR. It is the work I enjoy the most.

3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

All hours spent reading and loving the books. Also playing games related to Tolkien’s works, most of all Lord of the Rings Online where I made new friends who also liked Tolkien´s work.

4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

Yes, growing older (I’m 48 now) and learning more about his life’s work have made me love it even more. I wrote a Bachelor thesis at University about Tolkien’s use of OE [Old English] words as names but for the last couple of years I have most listened to podcasts as a way to learn more. Especially podcasts like Exploring the Lord of Rings with Corey Olsen and The Prancing Pony Podcast with Alan and Shawn have been important for me in recent years.

5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

Of course 🙂 It is so much more than LOTR, it is a wonderful world, mytholgy and a great community.

TEP #27 – Molly Ostertag

Our guest this week is a fantastic animator and author: Molly Ostertag!

Molly is known for her work on several animated series, including Star vs. The Forces of Evil, The Owl House, and ThunderCats Roar. She is also a New York Times Bestselling author who enjoys writing Lord of the Rings fanfiction and fan comics. Her most exciting recent work is her award winning The Witch Boy series. I am so delighted to share our interview with you, where we talk about being her experience as a fantasy writer and a Tolkien fan!

Please consider supporting the Podcast on Patreon!

Subscribe to the podcast via:

Comments or questions:

  • Visit us at Facebook or Twitter
  • Comment on this blog post
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  • Email TolkienExperience (at) gmail (dot) com