If you’re a die-hard Tolkien fan (like the Legendarium team and so many of our readers are), you’ve no-doubt heard of Noble Smith’s non-fiction book, The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life, in which Noble “sheds a light on the life-changing ideas tucked away inside the classic works of J.R.R. Tolkien and his most beloved creation―the stouthearted Hobbits” (Amazon.com).
Noble has actually been writing professionally since he was a teenager and recently released the third installment of his Ancient Greek series, The Warrior Trilogy, which you can read more about below. Continuing Legendarium Media’s focus on learning from fan-creators, I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to interview Noble and I’m incredibly excited to share that interview with you all.
I hope you enjoy learning from one of the masters as much as I have!
A while back you wrote The Wisdom of the Shire, a brilliant nonfiction treatise on the application of a Hobbit’s worldview into our modern lives.
Thanks for calling it brilliant, Erik! I’m very proud of that book. But Tolkien was the brilliant one. I just tried to distill everything from his works that gave me joy or made me feel like I could be a better person. Last week I finished reading The Lord of the Rings to my son out loud for the second time (it took us a year). And I found about 50 things that I wish I had put in The Wisdom of the Shire. But that’s the beauty of Tolkien’s work. You can read it over and over again and still find hidden veins of mithril.
Well, you certainly found mithril! Likewise, The Wisdom of the Shire made me feel like I could be a better person or, more specifically, live a better lifestyle. I immediately made a loaf of homemade bread after reading it!
That’s fantastic! A lot of people tell me that they make the stout and mushroom soup from the recipe that I put in there. But homemade bread is one of those little joys that makes life good.
What made you decide to tackle fiction?
I actually started writing my series set in Ancient Greece (The Warrior Trilogy) about 8 years before The Wisdom of the Shire. I sold The Wisdom at the same time as the trilogy, but the publisher wanted to put my Tolkien book out first to coincide with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Anyway, I’ve been writing professionally since I was 18 when I had my first play (a fantasy/comedy) produced off-Broadway. Writing non-fiction was actually way harder for me than historical fiction.
Getting published—pre-selling, nonetheless—is impressive, and it seems to be increasingly difficult in this competitive landscape. Do you recommend that writers pursue a publishing deal, or should they focus on self-publishing?
Getting a publishing deal in this day and age is ridiculously hard, Erik. It’s soul-crushing. The way I got around being rejected over and over again was by creating a fictitious publishing house back in the late 90s (with my parents) and self-publishing my first novel in hardcover (a fantasy called Stolen from Gypsies that’s sort of like The Princess Bride meets The Holy Grail). Then, when the whole e-book thing started happening around 2006, I put out one of the first self-published books on iTunes, which was an earlier version of the first book in my ancient Greece series under a different title. So that novel came out as a free e-book before Thomas Dunne Books—an imprint of Macmillan—bought it and published it as the Warrior Trilogy. To be a writer you have to have grit and never give up; and you have to figure out how to beat the system. Just keep in mind that Tolkien didn’t get The Lord of the Rings published until he was 62; and he typed the entire manuscript for that book on a manual typewriter using only two fingers. Now that’s determination!
Why should Legendarium’s audience read your Warrior Trilogy?
Well, if you love Game of Thrones, or the TV shows Vikings or The Last Kingdom, you’ll love my series. It’s the story of a young Olympic fighter-in-training who has to save his family, city and beloved from genocidal invaders. It’s based on the true story of the sneak-attack on the independent and democratic city-state of Plataea—a place that got caught in the middle of the epic war fought between Athens and Sparta for the control of Greece. It’s a tale of heroism, friendship and grit. Some of the same powerful themes of The Lord of the Rings.
That’s what I like to hear, my man!
Historical fiction is particularly difficult to write because in order to immerse your readers in history, you’ve got to be well-versed in the history yourself. How did you prepare yourself to write The Warrior Trilogy?
I read about 250 books including the Iliad, The Odyssey, every play written by every playwright who ever lived at the time, and countless historical analyses of the period. I knew what people ate, what they wore, how they fought, how they played…I even knew what kind of jokes they made. And I traveled to the spot—the actual archaeological site—where Plataea used to stand. I was out there in a field of cows measuring the footings of walls and stumbling over 2,500-year-old sarcophagi with scary-looking Greek snakes everywhere. Going to Plataea was awesome because I felt like I was connecting with the spirits of the people who lived and died there.
Oh, is that all? Just kidding. It sounds like you were the guy to write this series. How much of your study was done for the sake of researching this novel, versus personal interest or other reasons? (I imagine there was a lot of intersection.)
Most of the research was done just for the trilogy. But the original idea came to me over a decade ago when I was working on a feature documentary film about the ancient Greek playwright Euripides. Once that project was completed I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had learned about the Golden Age of Greece and its downfall.
Do you find writing nonfiction or fiction to be more rewarding? Which is more challenging?
They’re both rewarding. But fiction is way more fun. I don’t think I’ll ever write another non-fiction book. The only reason that I wrote The Wisdom of the Shire is that I’ve been obsessed with Middle-earth since I was twelve years old. I just had to write that book. It’s been translated into 9 languages and it gives me great joy to receive messages from people from all over the world who were touched by it and Tolkien’s wisdom.
For me, Wisdom of the Shire, was in many ways as life-changing as reading The Lord of the Rings. The way you share about the Hobbit worldview with such personal affection makes the work all the more memorable. I suppose that, in a way, building your own worldview around Tolkien’s has provided an avenue for his legacy to live on in your own work. I’m excited to look for those elements in The Warrior Trilogy, which I’ve just begun reading.
That makes me feel great, Erik. Tolkien’s books changed my life and at certain points even saved my life. Some people didn’t like me writing about my own life in relationship to Tolkien’s books, but that was the whole point! These stories and the philosophical ideas behind them infuse the lives of Middle-earth fanatics and make us see this world in a different (and better) way.
Obviously you’re well-read in Tolkien. Who are some of your other literary influences (and feel free to talk about Tolkien as well, if you’d like)? What are you reading right now?
I have a pretty extensive Tolkien collection. He was a huge influence on me. My other literary influences are Frank Herbert (Dune), Patrick O’Brian (who wrote possibly the greatest series ever about war and friendship—the Aubrey/Maturin books); Homer and Euripides; and Richard Adams (author of Watership Down). Right now I’m reading Salman Rushdie’s new book. I got to meet him recently which was a huge thrill.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a ridiculously fun fighting game for Xbox called Killer Instinct. I’m the Narrative Design Lead so I’m responsible for doing in-game dialogue, the characters’ backstories, cinematics…all of that fun video game stuff. I also just finished the narrative design and lead writing duties on one of the first HoloLens apps called HoloTour (a trip to Machu Picchu and Rome that you can do in your own living room). It’s going to be available soon to anyone who has a HoloLens dev-kit and I’m incredibly proud of this beautiful vision that we’ve put together. HoloLens is a mind altering experience. I got to release one of the very first home movies ever made with a HoloLens and you can see it here: https://twitter.com/ShireWisdom/status/670870132483321856
Wow, so many exciting things going on! Writing for visual media is of particular interest to me as a filmmaker. Interactive media is less familiar to me, but still appealing. It seems like VR is finally poised to take hold and change the way that human beings tell stories…again. Do you think that VR is finally here to stay?
Well, I definitely think that VR (Virtual Reality) is here today. But so is AR. That’s Augmented Reality, and that’s what HoloLens is all about. VR puts you into a world that completely takes over your POV and blinds you to the real world (like Oculus). AR, however, adds things to your space allowing you to walk around and see 3D objects right there in your own room. And these holograms look absolutely solid. You find yourself gasping a lot when you do HoloLens. I’ve put hundreds of hours on the device and I still find myself going “Holy crap!” Imagine a HoloLens app called “Bag End.” You could turn your entire house into a Hobbit hole with the big round door, windows looking out onto the Shire, Gandalf sitting by the fire smoking a pipe, pictures on the walls and the Red Book of Westmarch on your dining room table. And it would all look so real you’d be convinced that you could reach out and touch it. That’s HoloLens. And it’s magic.
What advice do you have for writers who want to reach the largest audience possible?
Make a deal with Amazon! Or write the next The Lord of the Rings. OK. Those two are impossible. Just write from the heart. Maybe it will stick.
Follow Noble Smith on Twitter (@ShireWisdom) and buy his books using the links above (which will also support Legendarium). You won’t be disappointed.