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For Middle-Earth, One Family Tree To Rule Them All

Oct 14, 2012
Originally published on October 14, 2012 2:14 pm

Later this year, director Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will reintroduce moviegoers to Middle-Earth, the fictional setting for J.R.R. Tolkien's epic tales.

The high adventure and climactic battles of Tolkien's world were last seen on the big screen in 2003, in The Return of the King. The final scene featured a climactic battle between the men of the West — as well as elves, dwarves and hobbits — against the forces of evil.

Here's a question: Just how many men were there in the West? And were they friends, cousins or perhaps even brothers?

Even if those questions weren't troubling you as you left the theater, they were on the mind of Emil Johansson, a university student in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Johansson has spent the past several years creating a comprehensive census and family tree of all the characters — over 900 of them — created by Tolkien for his fantasy world. He tells Weekend Edition host Rachel Martin that his cataloging of the characters actually started when he began reading the books as a child.

"Middle-Earth is such a vast world," Johannson says, "so just to keep my head straight, I started doodling on a piece of paper the various relationships."

A few months later his doodle had spread to two larger pieces of paper with a complete genealogy of the characters, Johannson says.

Johannson's project grew beyond just a standard family tree, and now even includes longevity charts and gender demographics.

"My statistics say that there are only 19 percent female characters," he says.

Despite this seemingly obsessive hobby, Johannson assures us he does, in fact, have a girlfriend.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Back to earth now - Middle-Earth, that is.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Maybe you were one of the throngs of fans who packed into theaters to watch the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy about a decade ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LORD OF THE RINGS")

VIGGO MORTENSEN: (as Aragon) Hold your ground. Hold your ground.

MARTIN: The climactic battle sequences and the speeches that roused the warrior dwarf in all of us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LORD OF THE RINGS")

MORTENSEN: (as Aragon) By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, men of the West.

MARTIN: But here's a question: how many men were there in the West and were they cousins, brothers, neighbors? Maybe friends. Even if those weren't the questions troubling you as you left the theater, they were on the mind of Emil Johansson. He's a university student in Gothenburg, Sweden. And he has spent the past several years creating a comprehensive census and family tree of all the characters J.R.R. Tolkien created for "The Lord of the Rings." There are over 900, by the way. And he joins us now from Sweden. Welcome to the program.

EMIL JOHANSSON: Thank you.

MARTIN: So, Emil, what in the world inspired you to start an undertaking like this?

JOHANSSON: Well, that is a very good question. It began when I was a child and I used to read a lot of books. I think one day my mother said that "The Lord of the Rings" was probably a little bit too difficult for me to read. And, of course, that inspired me to read...

MARTIN: That made you want to read it more, sure.

JOHANSSON: Right. Exactly. But, you know, Middle-Earth is such a vast world, so just to keep my head straight, I started doodling on a piece of paper the various relationships. And a few months later - and I had two large pieces of paper with what I believed to be a complete genealogy.

MARTIN: You didn't do just a standard family tree. Over time, you've included longevity charts, race and sex demographics. Is that right?

JOHANSSON: Yes, yes. For example, my statistics say that there are only 19 percent female characters.

MARTIN: Because these stories are about war, world domination. These are largely male pursuits.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHANSSON: Exactly.

MARTIN: I have to ask, Emil, what do your friends and family think of this particular hobby of yours?

JOHANSSON: Well, that's an interesting question. But I do have a girlfriend.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHANSSON: I bet you were...

MARTIN: Not that I would have doubted that.

JOHANSSON: I happen to be at a conference just the other day and the moderator of this event, he was rather surprised actually to find that I had a girlfriend with this kind of hobby.

MARTIN: Emil Johansson. He is a university student in Gothenburg, Sweden. And he has chronicled the genealogy of all the peoples of Middle-Earth. Thanks so much for talking with us, Emil.

JOHANSSON: It was my pleasure.

MARTIN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.