[box]I had a chance to chat a bit with Jill Richardson, author of Hobbits, You, and the Spiritual World of Middle Earth, and wanted to share it with you. If you’re like me, you’ll be excited to look at Tolkien’s Middle Earth in a new, spiritual light. Enjoy![/box]
ADG: Tell me a little bit about your book.
JR: The book is about twenty Tolkien characters, who they are, what makes them do what they do, good or bad, and how that relates to both God and the reader. It pulls character traits everyone can relate to out of someone from LOTR or The Hobbit and then relates it to the Bible. Can a teen learn about dealing with pride, frustration, or fear from Thorin, Eowyn, or Aragorn? Can she learn to find hope in hopelessness from Arwen? Can he understand how to channel his crazy whims from Pippin? Absolutely! I introduce each character, add a relevant Bible passage, throw in discussion/journal questions, and offer action steps for each person to take going forward. I have a lot of fun with it, but I don’t shy away from tough questions and applications. Teenagers are capable of asking tough questions. They are more than able to recognize things that need changing. I refuse to talk down to a teenager or make it easy for them. They are intelligent, fun, and up for a challenge, and that’s what I make the book as well.
ADG: It sounds like an ambitious project to undertake. What made you decide to write this?
Years ago, my brother tried to get me to read the books. He said they were the greatest things ever. I tried first with The Silmarillion and said, “Yeah, right. Don’t think so.” Years later, my husband started to read them to our girls when they were in elementary school. I listened, saw the first movie, then picked the books up myself and devoured them. There’s something magical about Tolkien’s skill mixed with real, unforgettable, and deep characters, and a story of epic good and evil fought by everyday heroes. Who else would get away with such unlikely heroes? He manages to show both the greatness and depth of evil in humankind in this small world of his.
I’ve always loved working with teenagers, and I’m passionate about finding ways to connect with them. We spend too much time telling them what to do and how to live and too little time telling them why and going deep with theology. They can get it—they want to get it. Like most of us, they get it best through story. It might seem that fantasy characters don’t have much in common with real teenagers, but they do. They feel inadequate, afraid, angry, proud, exhausted, hopeful. Teens are looking for their adventure in life. How do they fit in this world? What is their task? In Tolkien’s world, it’s all about tasks and unique callings; it’s about normal, average people finding their place and doing great things. So, it seemed natural to combine amazing stories with real-life experience and truth.
ADG: Well said. Do all your books take this approach, or have you written other kinds of books?
I wrote and sold a historical romance twenty years ago. It wasn’t very good, but it helped get me through a year of seminary. 🙂 After that, I wrote a book of biblical monologues for church performance. I was an associate pastor at a small church, and we needed material for small casts—like a cast of one. So, the book (Making a Name for Myself) was born and sold to Lillenas. They are still on the Lillenas website as individual scripts. Right now, I have a book called Don’t Forget to Pack the Kids: Short Term Missions for Your Whole Family on Amazon. It’s a practical guide. I also tell a lot of stories about our experiences. There is a companion, Please Pass the Fish Head: Volunteer Vacation for Your Family that packs the same basic material but is aimed at nonchristian families who find volunteering a valuable experience. As you can probably see, I’m kind of all over the place. My focus is on adult nonfiction and young adult fiction. I think.
ADG: So what’s your next project?
I’m tweaking a YA novel I’m excited about. It’s about a high school freshman whose goal in life is to be invisible. Of course, everyone in her life is complicating that goal. I’m excited about it because, within the framework of disastrous art projects, nearly disastrous boy issues, and normal high school drama, the book hits the topic of illegal immigration and the question of “who is my neighbor?” It also helps teenage girls learn to stand up for things that matter and not cower in shadows like I always did.
Other than that, I’m working on adult titles called How Come I Was So Nice before I Had Kids, Saying Yes to Good Enough (How Letting Go of Perfect Makes You Better), and possibly a dialog between me and my daughter on our journey through her years of, shall we say, significant self destruction. A work in progress.
ADG: You sound busy. Any particular inspiration for your writing (beside the obvious Tolkien?)
As is clear from my odd list of projects, inspiration comes from anywhere. I’m always attracted to an underdog story, which comes out in my first novel about the underground railroad and the YA book. I love championing “the least of these.”
I am all about grace and change—helping people see how incredibly much they are loved and what an astounding metamorphosis God has in mind for them. People get so trapped in feeling they have to stay a certain way and repeat failures. God has opened a door to so much more. As a pastor of discipleship, empowering people to find their place in God’s story is where I get my excitement, so that is where the writing comes from as well.
ADG: In a lot of ways, the call to be a writer is much like the call to ministry. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
As a child, I wanted to be a veterinarian, until I saw the vet take my cat’s temperature. That, I decided, was no longer a viable career path. Then came environmental activist, but not a good field for a flaming introvert. Then law school, which was the plan halfway through college, except I became a Christian, and God diverted me toward something that would have more of an immediate and positive impact on people: I became a high school teacher.
Somewhere in there, I fell into writing. I’d always been told I was good at it. I sold my first article to Discipleship Journal shortly after getting married. Since we kept moving for my husband’s schooling, teaching didn’t work, so writing seemed sensible. I’m not one of those people who always knew. It happened on the side and grew from there. Plus, I added the whole pastor thing just to complicate matters.
I took some years off while our family went through major chaos both because it was crazy-time and because I wasn’t sure I knew squat to tell anyone anymore. Now, I know I never knew anything, but God has called me to tell what I’ve learned. It’s brought a much deeper quality and calling to what I do.
ADG: If you had one word to describe your journey as a writer, what would it be?
ADG: Nice choice! So, how can my readers learn more about you and your writing?