The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
“Like Tolkien, I consider myself somewhat of a hobbit,” said Stephen Colbert after reciting the Hobbit Walking song Tuesday night following a special Montclair Film Festival screening of the upcoming film TOLKIEN starring Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins about the life of legendary scholar and author J.R.R. Tolkien.
Colbert, a Tolkien super fan, who said the film gave him “amazing joy,” launched into an enthusiastic 40-minute conversation with Hoult and Collins as well as the film’s director Dome Karukoski. The Q&A was broadcast live across the country to some 400 theaters.
Colbert set the tone of the conversation by correctly pronouncing the author’s name (Tol-KEEN), something the film makes clear by having a young Tolkien correct one of his professors.
Colbert admitted he had been mispronouncing it his entire life. Then he asked Karukoski what motivated him to make Tol-KEEN.
“When I first read Lord of the Rings, I was 12 or 13 and I was very miserable young man,” said Karukoski “I was being bullied. I was an outsider and an outcast. Those [Tolkien] stories were an escape from that misery and that loneliness.”
“Fast forward 30 years later, and I learned that Tolkien was experiencing some of the same feelings I was at the same age,” said Karukoski.
Colbert wanted to know what surprised Hoult most about playing the role of J.R.R.Tolkien.
Hoult, who read The Hobbit when he was younger, was amazed to learn more about Tolkien’s own life.
“The story stands alone as a beautiful story about friendship, love and loss,” said Hoult.
Colbert was taken with the film’s portrayal of the fairytale love story of Tolkien and Edith — “orphans who go through great suffering and find love together” — and how the film conveyed the “mythical, magical component” in their relationship.
Some of Colbert’s favorite moments were the scenes of Edith dancing, because “you could see all the references to characters she inspired.”
Collins took cues for her “elfin dance” from a cheekiness she noticed in her research of Edith as well as being inspired by memories of listening to Florence and the Machine, who she remembers being barefoot with long curly hair and appearing almost ethereal at Coachella.
Colbert and Karukoski traded references to Tolkien’s work and both agreed how women in Tolkien’s writing were higher than men and more powerful and how his female characters were inspired by his love and regard for Edith.
Karukoski concurred, saying that Tolkien and Edith had an eternal love affair.
“Tolkien wrote a letter to his son after Edith had died, saying that she was his Lúthien,” Karukoski added.
“Tolkien, as you see in the film, his childhood was saved by storytelling, his mother telling him stories,” Colbert said. “Tolkien, in some ways, also saved my life.”
Colbert was first given the Fellowship of the Ring, at age 13. He recalled a vivid memory of reading The Two Towers.
“I was lying on the couch in my living room and at a certain point I gasped, because I realized I hadn’t been breathing. I was so deeply into Tolkien’s story that I felt like I need a snorkel to get back to the world I lived in.”
Colbert still returns to Tolkien when he “cannot take another moment of the nonsense of our present world.”
Just the other night, Colbert listened to a little bit of the Treebeard chapter, just to remind him of “something still and bright and beautiful and forever above the shadows.”
“It’s your happy place,” Collins chimed in.
“It’s my beautiful place,” Colbert clarified. “It’s actually beautiful, because Tolkien’s stories are not particularly happy. I think I’m paraphrasing him when I say ‘all the happiest stories are sad.’ No one gets out unscathed.”
Colbert ended the night by saying thanking Karukoski, Hoult and Collins for the film they created.
“It reminds me of the power of story and how it can give us hope and I will not say do not cry, as not all tears are evil. I cried many times watching this film and I want to thank you for both those tears of pain and of those tears of joy and for the lesson you have given me of about his [Tolkien’s] life and for your beautiful performances.”