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oh, Stephen!

So last fall I wrote about TV host Stephen Colbert, his Tolkien trivia mastery, and the pitfalls thereof. Though I came to critique, Colbert’s show persona is clear: nobody bests him at Tolkien trivia.

Well, I’ve now seen somebody stumping Colbert, but they may have had to cheat to do it. It was actor Ryan Gosling with a question from his mom designed for the purpose. It went like this:

GOSLING: “In The Fellowship of the Rings [sic], being the first part of The Lord of the Rings …”
COLBERT: Yes.
GOSLING: Full title.
COLBERT: Yes.
GOSLING: “Gandalf is trying to find the Dwarf doors of Moria …”
COLBERT: Yes.
GOSLING: “And an archway appears on the rock face.”
COLBERT: Yes.
GOSLING: Do you remember that?
COLBERT: Yes, I do remember that. Is that the question? [laughter] ‘Cause the answer is yes, I remember that. Yes, the Doors of Moria. Go ahead. Yeah, what about ’em?
GOSLING: All right. “My question is …”
COLBERT: Yeah?
GOSLING: “The archway appears on … what page?”

And Colbert cracks up in defeat, and Gosling stands up and takes a bow.

First I’d like to point out that the Authorities may differ as to whether this question is a true trivia poser according to the strict rules of the Game. One’s first reaction is to say no, yet The Tolkien Quiz Book by Bart Andrews with Bernie Zuber (NAL, 1979) contains questions on the lines of, “In the second album, on which track does Tolkien chant ‘Namarië’ in Elvish?” which amounts to pretty much the same thing. I thought questions like that rather beyond reasonableness at the time the book was new, but I can’t say that Gosling’s mom’s standards of trivia mastery are unprecedented.

But I feel sorry for Colbert, because he missed the perfect comeback. He could have replied, “Which edition?”

I have right here editions of the book, some 3-volume and some 1-volume, in which the illustration of the archway appears on p. 319, 298, 323, 305, 339, 399, and 245, and my collection of editions is not a large one.* I suspect that Colbert could have uttered any number in that range and stood a good chance of being right. It’s for this reason that Tolkien Studies requires scholarly citations to The Lord of the Rings to name the book and chapter as well as the page number in our standard edition, because not all readers will have it. So, for reasonable purposes, Colbert could also have said “Book 2, chapter 4” and that would have been good enough, and I bet he would have known that.

*You want a real trivia question? Identify all these editions!

About the Author: David Bratman

David Bratman is co-editor of Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review, and former editor of Mythprint, the bulletin of The Mythopoeic Society. He likes to write about Tolkienian biography and bibliography.


  • Harm Schelhaas

    p. 319 could be a first or second edition Allan&Unwin or Houghton Mifflin hardcover. Or a 1987 Houghton Mifflin hardcover, the one with Alan Lee illustrations on the dust jacket.
    p. 298 is the Harper Collins 1993 one volume paperback, with ‘Gandalf the Green’ on the cover.
    p. 323 is in the Allan&Unwin one volume paperback 1968-1983 (Pauline Baynes cover, for many years, some were hardbound by book club publishers; possibly the 1969 ‘india paper edition’ has the same pagination) or in the one volume hardcover illustrated by Alan Lee (the ‘Centenary edition’ and reprints).
    p. 305 is a 50th Anniversary Edition, various formats (Harper Collins Deluxe, one volume hardcover, three volume hardcover, one volume paperback – the gold one – Houghton Mifflin Deluxe, one volume hardcover, one volume paperback, three volume hardcover) and various later repackagings (such as the Harper Collins red one volume paperback and the three volume ‘60th Anniversary Edition’ hardcovers).
    p. 399 is a Ballantine three volume paperback, 1960’s, 70’s or 80’s (don’t know if the pagination was retained or changed after 1986, I don’t look at the modern DelReys).

    I can’t locate p. 339 nor p. 245, not in my collection, nor in my pagecalculation spreadsheet. Might be some earlier Deluxe edition, or the 60th Anniversary Edition one volume hardcover in plastic slipcase. Or you might have mixed in a translation.

    • David Bratman

      Very good!

      p. 339 is the infamous Ace paperback edition of 1965.
      p. 245 is the ringer, a translation: specifically the 1986 one-volume large format Het Spectrum softcover of Schuchart’s Dutch translation.

      • Harm Schelhaas

        😉

        Ah, thank you! I should have thought of the Ace paperback, but I don’t have one, and I didn’t include it in my page calculation spreadsheet, although I could have, from the information that Hammond and Anderson give in the bibliography. Presumably I didn’t want to wast my time on a pirate edition 🙂

        But you caught me out with the Spectrum bordeaux-red and gold one-volume paperback (the one that falls apart when you look at it angrily) which should be in my spreadsheet (which covers English, Dutch and Frisian editions), but isn’t, as it is about the only Dutch edition I don’t have — except for the movie editions that are all repackagings of standard three-volume paperbacks and a few one-volume hardcovers without appendices where I only have the matching one with appendices; those don’t add new paginations to my file.