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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 …”
GOSLING: Full title.
GOSLING: “Gandalf is trying to find the Dwarf doors of Moria …”
GOSLING: “And an archway appears on the rock face.”
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 …”
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.