Hobbit ActivityEthan Gilsdorf (author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks) and I geek out on the new Desolation of Smaug trailer and reminisce about the Rankin and Bass version of The Hobbit. You can also win a copy of the new illustrated edition of The Hobbit. Go to www.dungeonsanddorkwads.com. Hobbitpalooza!



iTunes catalogI have to admit that I don’t like reading books on ebook readers. Give me an old fashioned hunk of paper in my hands any day. I truly believe that printed books will never go out of style. I consider the books crammed onto the shelves of our many bookcases in our house to be just as beautiful as the art we have hanging on the walls. “A home without books is like a body without a soul,” as old Cicero said. (When that Roman philosopher lived almost two thousand years ago his “books” would have been scrolls and he would have kept them in buckets on the floor.)

That said, I think iTunes is amazing because it can make buying different versions of an author’s books so much easier. And it allows people from all over the world to have access to those works. The Greek version of my novel Sons of Zeus (ΟΙ ΓΙΟΙ ΤΟΥ ΔΙAcame out last week, and Greek readers in America (or Europe or wherever) can buy it right now…instantaneously! At this point my iTunes catalog has three of the eight translations of my book The Wisdom of the Shire available (Spanish, Portuguese and Italian), as well my first novella and three of my unabridged audiobook recordings. You can even get the prequel short story for my epic The Warrior Trilogy. If you like to read books on the go on your iPad or iPhone, check them out.


Trade Paperback Coming Soon

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The paperback of The Wisdom of the Shire is coming October 29th, a week before the Blue Ray of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hits the shelves. The paperback looks fantastic, and I’m really proud of the great blurbs featured on the back, from The Boston Globe (which is actually reviewer Ethan Gilsdorf, author of my favorite memoir Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks), to Kirkus Reviews and USA Today, to TheOneRing.net. This version of my book includes a bonus chapter called The Children of the Shire, and the book’s text has been totally corrected based on several eagle-eyed Tolkien fans who spotted all of my errata in the hardcover. I can’t wait until this is in bookstores around the country. I hope that people buy it at an indie bookseller. To listen to the great Simon Vance read an excerpt from the audiobook, click here.

Tolkien’s Magical Inventory


(The Healing of Éowyn by the Brothers Hildebrandt)

The painting above is one of my favorite Tolkien-inspired works. It’s the scene of Aragorn holding a steaming cup of the magical athelas herb in the Houses of Healing in Gondor. He’s trying to bring Éowyn out of the coma that was caused by her confrontation with the Witch-king of Angmar. In my most recent article for Legendarium, I write about the mystical properties of the athelas herb, as well as several unique magical items from Middle-earth that help show J.R.R. Tolkien’s creative genius. You can read more here.

Interview With A Tolkien Artist

Thorin in Barrel

I’ve already written on this blog about how much I love the new edition of The Hobbit illustrated by Jemima Catlin. Recently I got to do a Q&A with this brilliant artist.

NOBLE: One of my favorite pictures that you’ve done is of Thorin floating down the Forest River in a barrel. We get to see inside that barrel (as if we have X-ray vision) to the grumpy Dwarf crammed inside. How did you come up with that idea?

JEMIMA: I wanted to represent the movement and speed of the barrel, but at the same time show the cramped and grumpy Thorin inside, so thought this was the best way to show that. I could see that image quite clearly while reading the text so made sure to sketch it out before it left my head!

To read the rest of the interview on the fantasy/sci-fi website Legendarium click here. You will also get to see an unpublished picture that Ms. Catlin did for J.R.R. Tolkien’s children’s story Roverandom.

Baldor the Hapless


The other day I was reading The Return of the King out loud to my son and we came to an intriguing scene. Aragorn & Co. had just entered the Paths of the Dead and found the skeleton of a mighty warrior wearing a golden helm with a notched sword by its side. The corpse was lying in front of a mysterious shut stone door, and it had been there for centuries. Who was this dead warrior? Why had he come to this evil place? I decided to explore the little-known story about the origin of this skeleton, and it’s a fascinating tale from Tolkien’s rich legendarium. Read my article here on the appropriately named Fantasy site Legendarium.

76th Anniversary!

Hobbit cover ms

It’s the 76th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit! I’m reposting a blog that I wrote a year ago about the remarkable friendship between J.R.R. Tolkien and his publisher Rayner Unwin–a friendship that began when Rayner was a little boy and reviewed the first manuscript of The Hobbit.

Read my blog here.

A Beautiful New Version of The Hobbit


I have seen the new edition of The Hobbit illustrated by Jemima Catlin, and I enthusiastically declare that it is a splendid thing! I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins UK) in the mail the other day—and getting it felt like Christmas.

I have many editions of The Hobbit in my collection, from Alan Lee’s handsomely illustrated edition, to the bizarre Rankin and Bass animated film book tie-in, to the one with Michael Hague’s sumptuous paintings. All of them have a place in my heart for one reason or another, along with my favorite Tolkien artist Pauline Baynes’s work. (She created an amazing cover for the Penguin edition of The Hobbit but, sadly, never did an illustrated version).

And now I have this magnificent new version of The Hobbit from Ms. Catlin to sit beside the others on my shelf of Tolkien books.

There’s something about Catlin’s inspired work that filled me with a childlike joy—the same joy that I had the first time I saw an edition of The Hobbit with Tolkien’s own line drawings and watercolors. Catlin has created whimsical pictures that capture the innocent wonder of a reader first entering Middle-earth and going along on Bilbo’s journey. Kids will love these pictures because they’re clever, moving and funny. And adults will love them for the same reason.

And what a Smaug-like treasure trove is to be found in this handsome clothbound hardback! There are 150 of Catlin’s pieces in this book. Most of them are neat little watercolor, ink and pencil pictures that appear in random places throughout the story, oftentimes with text wrapping around the image.

Because there are so many pictures in this edition (the most of any edition of The Hobbit in print) we get to see little tidbits that usually get overlooked by artists—Gollum recalling a vision of “eggses” (Catlin shows blue robin eggs inside a sinister looking thought bubble); goblins picking up Bilbo’s buttons with humorous expressions on their piggy-bat faces; Bilbo dreaming of dancing black bears while asleep at Beorn’s; a flash forward (described by Tolkien) of Smaug’s bones on the bottom of the Long Lake; the crown of red leaves and berries in Thranduil’s hair; a sign announcing the sale of Bilbo’s belongings that you can read in a flowing script “Messrs Grubb, Grubb, and Burrowes would sell by auction the effects of the late Bilbo Baggins,” etc.  I could go on and on about these glorious little details.

There are over a dozen full page illustrations too, and they are marvelous. There is one showing the trolls after they’ve been turned to stone that evokes the fanciful work of Cor Blok; and the dinner party at Beorn’s with his animal waitstaff (a sheep’s back makes an excellent stand for a serving tray). The image that I like best is a lovely close up of Smaug, snoozing smugly atop his heaps of gold and jewels, crowns and caskets.

Some of the more unconventional pictures are my favorites. There’s one of Thorin as he’s floating down the Forest River—and we know it’s him inside because we get to see through the side of the barrel, as though with X-ray vision, to the cramped and grumpy Dwarf crammed inside. I also like the way she illustrated Bilbo whenever he puts on the One Ring: he’s drawn in black and white, as though he were a ghost.

Catlin did a masterful job of capturing the personalities of Bilbo and Gandalf. The wizard is especially expressive and I love the picture of him displaying the map of the Lonely Mountain to Thorin & Co. and Bilbo at Bag End. There’s also a cool image of Gandalf in disguise at the camp of the Elvenking, and another of him smoking his pipe and blowing colored smoke rings with a perfectly roguish look on his face.

If I haven’t already convinced you to buy this version of The Hobbit and add it to your collection, then I give up. All I can say is that I believe that J.R.R. Tolkien himself would have loved these illustrations because they are in the same spirit as his own pictures for The Hobbit (and even his Father Christmas Letters). Catlin has done herself proud, and publisher David Brawn of Harper Collins UK made an excellent choice when he picked her to illustrate this beautiful edition.

The Hobbit illustrated by Jemima Catlin will be available in the United States on October 1st.

You can follow Ms. Catlin on Twitter @jemimacatlin

Open Your Dork-hoard!

Elf and Dragon

Ethan Gilsdorf (author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks) and I are embarking on a new website together called DungeonsAndDorkwads.com. Ethan’s memoir about rediscovering his teenage love of both D&D and J.R.R. Tolkien blew me away with its honesty, humor and unabashed dorkwad-heart-on-sleeve spirit. After reading an article that Ethan wrote in The Boston Globe called Bilbo Baggins Will Save Us All I knew that I had to contact this kindred spirit. He ended up doing an interview with me for Wired.com about The Wisdom of the Shire, and after that we struck up an email friendship.

In one of the first emails that I wrote to Ethan I sent him a photo of a miniature dragon that I had painted in 1982 and had recently pulled out of a moldering box. Ethan replied, “Lots of similar folks out there, aging geeks like us with a hankering to dust off their figurines.” Almost a year later, after exchanging some great images of “dusted off figurines” from various Twitter friends, it dawned on us that we should start this new website: a nostalgia nexus for all things Dungeons and Dragons including figurines, dungeon maps, books and even photos or movies of people playing the game back in the day.

D&D had a huge influence on my life back in the late seventies. I played the game for the first time when I was ten years old—two years before I read Tolkien. My friend Brad Hanson (Brad are you out there?) introduced me to the world and opened the floodgates of my imagination. He acted as Dungeon Master (the person who narrates the adventure) and guided by the story and map that he had created I entered an underground labyrinth with nothing but a virtual sword, my wits and a handful of crazy-looking dice. I returned five hours later, emotionally drained yet inflamed, after battling things called Orcs and Lurkers and Beholders . . . and bearing a bag of gold and a magic ring (sound familiar, Middle-earth fans?). D&D inspired me like no video game ever would. It was more real to me because the adventure was being played out in my head. And when I first started reading The Lord of the Rings I was primed and ready for Middle-earth.

The world of tabletop gaming was a refuge for us freaks and geeks: the zitty kids, the skinny ones and the fat ones, the weirdo with glasses or bad teeth or a combination of several of the above. None of that mattered, because the man or woman we had named on our Player Sheet—the avatar that lived in our minds . . . the one that was represented by that little painted figurine of a wizard or a fighting man or a paladin—that was who we were, at least for a little while, and the terror of being a kid or having your family fall apart or whatever was happening in the real world just disappeared. In the classic X-Files episode Jose Chung’s  From Outer Space one of the characters—an uber-geek of the highest order—tells Fox Mulder smugly, “I didn’t spend all of those years playing Dungeons and Dragons and not learn a little something about courage.” Every time I hear that line I burst into laughter. It’s so ridiculous, but it’s also strangely true!

Soon after my initiation into D&D I got into painting the tiny lead figurines that were made to serve as avatars for the players and the characters. Painting “figs” as my buddy Daniel and I called them became an obsession from the age of twelve until about sixteen: the age that you realize you can either spend the rest of your life painting lead figurines or start going out with girls! (I chose girls.) I had an old jeweler’s magnifying glass that I used when I painted the 25mm (1”) tall statues. I wanted my figurines to have details like pupils in their eyes (a pin works really well to achieve this, I discovered). I looked down on friends who slopped paint on their figs without any artistry. Each figurine would take me about six hours to complete. My hands were so steady when I wielded my brush that I probably could have become a famous surgeon…or a sniper! Years after acquiring this skill my first real girlfriend asked me to paint her toenails for her and I did a masterful job. She was blown away. I owed it all to painting figs! (The below image was my paladin character–Sir Eredin and his buddy Silverfax–painted in 1982. And yes, I admit that I was painting miniature unicorns.)


Before I went to college I put all of my painted creations in a box. Over a quarter of a century later I dug them out again—so that I could show my eight-year-old son. He became entranced by the figurines and wanted to know all about Dungeons and Dragons. We embarked on our own adventure of the mind this summer, with me serving as a benevolent dungeon master. My son had never had so much fun playing any game before and now begs me to set up new scenarios for us to play. I started buying old figurines on eBay and my boy and I have been painting them together. And I even found a complete set to fill the missing box of Halflings that I wrote about in another blog called Life Is Like A Box of Hobbits. What kind of fool would sell this?!!!


So Ethan and I are looking forward to seeing what people around the world discover in old boxes in their garages, or stuffed away in their parents’ basements. If you want to submit an image to us send it to share(at)dungeonsanddorkwads.com. Don’t be afraid to open up your Dork-hoard. For beauty is in the eye of the Beholder (Damage/Attack: 2-8).

By the way, I ended up marrying that young woman whose nails I so delicately painted. And she and my son are happily watching the Two Towers (Extended Edition) as I type this blog. Being a dorkwad has its benefits.

Follow www.dungeonsanddorkwads.com on Twitter @dungeondorks

Order my book The Wisdom of the Shire or listen to a sample of the audiobook

(Below are some new “figs” that my son and I have painted together.)

New Figs

Editing: Make Your Book Better!

(The cover of my next novel, coming June, 2014)

I muse on my other blog about what it’s like editing a book with a big publisher. You know what? It’s awesome. Read on…