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Tolkien biopic promises to explore the author's love of friends, Edith Bratt, and language

By Ernie Estrella
Tolkien Panel at Wondercon 19

WonderCon 2019 attendees on Friday got to see several exclusive clips — along with the teaser and full trailer — of the upcoming biopic Tolkien, which follows J.R.R. Tolkien's life and events that inspired his Middle-earth novels such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Silmarillion, and The Hobbit. Each clip gave a taste of the film's central themes including his formative friendships with fellow artists, the love of his young life, and how that all changed after the events of World War I. 

Guests of the panel included director Dome KarukoskiNicholas Hoult (who plays Tolkien), Patrick Gibson (R.Q. Gilson), Tom Glynn-Carney (Christopher Wiseman), and Anthony Boyle (G.B. Smith). The panel was moderated by's Clifford Broadway.

"What struck me the most is that he lived an amazing life," Karukoski said of Tolkien. "This beautiful, emotional story about love and friendship. So many things about what I had read about the books, occurred or were instrumental in his own life. It's a film that had to be made."

Several clips from the film were shown to the packed arena, each highlighting a major theme from the movie and spanning the range of Tolkien's life — and his interactions with the many people who would eventually influence him.

One clip showed four pre-adolescent boys walking the halls of their school and talking about forming a club about making art — the "Tea Club in Barovian Society," aka the TCBS. Their hope is to change the world through art, chanting "Helheimr" from Norse mythology (Karukoski explained that this is where warriors go after dying) and using it as a battle cry to live life to the fullest.

"Everything that he created was so personal and an escape for him. It was his secret world and those languages he created meant everything to him," Hoult said of Tolkien's pack of friends. "Even though we got Tolkien's work after the war, the tragic thing with these relationships is that a lot of guys didn't make it after the war, either emotionally or physically. We lost a lot of the great art they could have created."

As they built their own fellowship on the set, the actors also took a cue from Tolkien and his friends when the cast was off-set: The actors tried to find pubs in Oxford that were still around then, or would have been the type of places that Tolkien and Co. would have visited.

The sneak-peek clips also illuminated other elements of Tolkien's life. We see him discussing language with a linguistics professor who was intrinsic to Tolkien's transition into academia (Tolkien's love of language would of course lead him to invent 17 fictional ones). And attendees also previewed a clip spotlighting Edith Bratt, whom Tolkien was romantically involved with and became the influence for the Elvish people in LOTR.  She's played by Lily Collins, who was unable to make the trip to Anaheim, and in the clip she and Hoult discussed their first encounters with Tolkien books as well as favorite scenes they filmed. (Tolkien's romance with Bratt was the basis for his novel Beren and Lúthien.)

Some other notable moments from the panel: 

• Anthony Boyle endlessly played The Two Towers on PlayStation 2 as Gimli. 

• Catholicism is a theme of the film, as Tolkien was a devout Catholic and caused a bit of a stir in his family after his parents passed away. In the film, his pastor, Father Francis, is played by Star Trek: The Next Generation's Colm J. Meaney. 

• The cast was able to stop by The Eagle and Child, a famous pub in St. Giles' Street in Oxford, England, where Tolkien shared pints with Chronicles of Narnia author C.S. Lewis

Tolkien will be ready to rule them all — well, fans at least — when it hits theaters May 10.