Monthly Archives: September 2014

Tolkien Brazil: An Interview with Jef Murray

[This interview appeared on the Tolkien Brazil website at: Here, however, is an English translation of that article ]

In this interview with artist Jef Murray, the translation was made by Sergio Ramos. Jef is is a regular contributor to the the Tolkien Brazil site on various topics, so it is a joy for us to publish this interview. Jef Murray ( is an artist, author and internationally known illustrator. His paintings, drawings and writings appear in fantasy publications and cultural journals worldwide. His artwork has been featured in calendars, on websites, in video courses and television specials on J.R.R. Tolkien, and in logo and book cover designs. His paintings and drawings have been exhibited in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. His first book of short stories, poetry and weights, Seer: A Wizard’s Journal (was published by Oloris Publishing in 2012 – See more at: and at


  1. Tell us about your life

I was born in Melbourne, Florida, in the USA, but lived much of my childhood in northern Georgia, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. These are, BTW, the oldest mountains on earth, and they still hold many mysteries; I feel very blessed to have been raised in such a wild place!

I was educated in Atlanta, and worked in the business/engineering world for nearly two decades before I stepped back and began to explore deeper questions; about life, about art, about mystery and magic…

  1. When did you begin to paint?

I first took “serious” studio art classes when in college, but had to do so secretly. Art classes weren’t even called that at the Georgia Institute of Technology; they were called “visual communications” courses. And I was one of the few non-architects to take them. But, even in my engineering days, I drew and sketched, did pen and ink work, and created company logos. I only began to paint in the mid-1980s, when I attended oil painting studio classes at the Atlanta College of Art (now the Savannah College of Art and Design). And I continued painting from that point forward, but I only started doing so professionally beginning in 1999.


  1. When did you first come to know the works of Tolkien?

I first recollect being read The Hobbit  by my mum when I was in 2nd grade. She recited one chapter per night to me and my younger brother as a bedtime story, along with chapters from the Narnia tales; and I’ve ever since conflated the two in that enchanted and mysterious realm of childhood glamour that is remembrance.

We were also told at the time that there was a sequel to The Hobbit, but that we were not yet old enough to read it at bedtime. Happily, in this instance, my mum was quite right; the nightmares that might have ensued had she relented to our protestations would have been epic in proportion! What my childhood imagination might have conjured upon her reading to us about the ring-wraiths, I’d prefer not to reflect upon!

But, I did at last tackle The Lord of the Rings in high-school, and like so many others, fell in love with that fuller world that Tolkien created. This was abetted by the fact that my high-school was, as I said, nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, and to step past the Edge of the Wild, all I had to do was plunge into the heavy woods that surrounded the campus.

Nevertheless, I do not feel that I truly began to fully understand and appreciate The Lord of the Rings, nor The Silmarillion, until I came back to both works as an adult. And as with any classic novel, each subsequent reading teaches me a bit more about myself, about the greater world, and about the nature of life and mystery; because at each reading, I approach the texts as a different person.


  1. What do you most like in Tolkien s works?

There are too many wondrous places and people in Tolkien’s legendarium for me to give an adequate answer, so let me turn your question on its head and suggest scenes that do not inspire me.

Throughout his writings, Tolkien takes the point of view of free folk who choose to withstand and overcome wickedness, the will to power, and hatred, rather than taking the perspective of evil’s allies. We typically only get “into the head” of the corrupt and degraded characters (Morgoth, Sauron, the Witch King, Smaug, Saruman, the orcs, etc.) through the experiences, insights and counsels of the Wise; and even in these cases, it is clear that they are expressing their best sense of how the Enemy operates rather than intimate personal understanding of evil’s workings.

So, Tolkien takes the stance that I believe all of us should take; that is, of decent, though fallible, people struggling against evil. He does not wallow in horrible scenes and images, though horrible events are certainly depicted in his writings. Rather, he dwells on hope, on perseverance, on faith, on honour, and on love.

As a result of Tolkien’s own stance, I have rarely painted or sketched a scene from Middle-earth that was deliberately ugly, or dark, or that I intended should in any way glorify or honour the power or the triumph of evil. I wish to follow Tolkien in highlighting light, and life, and the deeply-felt longing we all have for the good, the true, and the beautiful.

And, as I’ve said, Tolkien’s tales are suffused with scenes that allow an artist to render such things: autumnal forests and sparkling morning mists; the rolling Shire hills; the sweeping plains of Rohan; the craggy peaks of the Misty Mountains; the beauty of the Fair Folk and their dwelling places; the valour of the Dunedain; the poignancy of resolute struggle against overwhelming odds; the peace that comes with acknowledgement of weakness and of the need for the help of a greater Providence.

These were the things that were important to Tolkien, and they are the things that are important to me as an artist.

  1. What do you think of Peter Jackson movies?

When I think of Peter Jackson’s work, I’m reminded of the children’s poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that reads:

“There was a little girl,

Who had a little curl,

Right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good,

She was very good indeed,

But when she was bad she was horrid.“

There are many, many things that Jackson and the other writers and artists who contributed to his version of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit  that were fantastic and filled with magic. But, there were just as many other things, to my mind, that were horrid. Some aspects of the original noble tales seem to have been dumbed down, sensationalized, and sometimes just muddled.

Of course, we can’t judge The Hobbit  fully yet, as we’ve only seen the first two installments, but those installments don’t, to my mind, bode well for the beloved childhood tale so many of us grew up with. As with LOTR, I fear too much license is being taken with the story, and too much emphasis is being given to chase scenes, to battles, and to an obsession with shocking imagery that often borders on glorification of evil, ugliness and horror; and these sometimes to the exclusion of hope, honour, self-sacrifice, loyalty, and so many of the other qualities with which Tolkien deliberately imbued his characters.

But, The Hobbit may yet redeem itself – we can only hope and pray!


  1. What character of middle earth do you prefer?

Again, there’s no simple answer to this question. Tolkien’s characters are very rarely simple; they often exhibit great depths of wisdom, nuance, good humour, vanity, humility, intelligence. They run the gamut from difficult, confused and compromised creatures such as Gollum all the way to very high and wise beings like the Valar. And Tolkien convincingly creates not only multitudes of races, but of great variety within those races, so choosing even a handful of favorites is tough.

That said, like most, I am very drawn to Hobbits in particular, because they seem to display the best qualities of good, solid, sensible folk; not high aristocrats, but simple souls with whom you’d love to share a meal and a pint. The other characters that intrigue me are the Istari, the wizards. As incarnate angels, they bridge, in a way, the gulf between fallen mankind and the spirit world, and yet they, too, are vulnerable to corruption and deceit.

A particular favorite character of mine, and one barely mentioned in Tolkien’s works, is Alatar, one of the Blue Wizards that “went east”. I am always intrigued when Tolkien leaves it to the reader to ask questions about characters that he himself has deliberately left open. Who were the Blue Wizards? Why did they travel east, and why did they not, seemingly, help with the battle against Sauron? We don’t know, but it is fun to speculate; and I’ve done so myself in some of my short stories.

  1. Do you paint only Tolkien?

Not at all! I also paint and sketch scenes from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia tales and from other fairy tales. In addition, I’ve illustrated a number of books, both chivalric tales like Fouque’s “The Magic Ring”, and childhood stories like Hilary Tolkien’s “Black and White Ogre Country”. Hilary, BTW, was J.R.R. Tolkien’s brother. You can see more of my paintings and sketches than anyone would likely wish to at


  1. Tell us more about painting Tolkien

All art is exploration, and there are fewer worlds more delightful to explore than Tolkien’s. And that is precisely what one does when one paints; you are offered the opportunity to imagine what a place or a person might have looked like. And, as you proceed, you often get the sense not so much of “making things up” as in discovering them for the first time –  “seeing” them as they must have actually been.

I rather think Tolkien himself described his own writing and storytelling in similar terms; it’s a discovery of sorts – the discovery of tales and people that somehow are no less real for the fact that they never existed in flesh and blood. In some ways, and if we’re doing our job right as artists, they are more real in our art than perhaps they ever could be in the flesh. And what’s most fun about painting them is that it’s not just for me as an artist; I get a chance to make these places and people real for others, and to share what I’ve learned on my own journeys to Middle-earth. There is no greater pleasure for me than to have someone see a painting or a sketch of mine and say to me “yes, that’s exactly how I always pictured it!”



Mystical Realms Newsletter for September, 2014




And welcome to my newsletter for September, 2014! Please feel free to forward this to anyone whom you believe might be interested in keeping up with me! To receive these newsletters regularly, drop me an email or subscribe online from my website ( ) or at: .


Pitchers ===============


  •      The 2015 Fantastical Beasts & Beings Calendar is complete and now available! To learn more and to purchase your copy, you can go to my website and click on the Fantastical Beasts Calendar image on the front page slider, or go directly to the following link:


  •      After a bit of reorganizing and re-envisioning, Oloris Publishing is on the cusp of announcing a new website with a new store, new initiatives, and much many intriguing new books, prints, and other items that will be becoming available in the next few weeks. Look for their new site at .



  •      The discerning among you may be surprised when going to My website has been re-hosted and has a slightly different look and different menu layout. Please let me know what you think!



Prospects ===================


  • The game is on for Tolkien fans in Kentucky in just two weeks!!!! A Long Expected Party 3 (acronym AL3P) is completely booked, but you can still be put on the waiting list for lodgings on-site. You can also stay off-site and register to join us. I’m delighted to announce that I will be one of three guests at the event, along with Dr. Michael Drout and Dr. Amy Sturgis. For more information, see:


Ponderings ==============

Alatar Speaks

“It is true that the Hobbits were the first to put pipeweed into a pipe and set fire to it,” said the old man. “But, it is also true that I was the first to make the latter step unnecessary.” Alatar drew gently on the odd device in his hand and blew several smoke rings, each of which neatly threaded its way through the ever-widening circle of its predecessor.

The smoke curled and wreathed the kerosene lamp overhead, and from the thicket beyond the edge of the porch, the evening din of frogs and cicadas was deafening.

“I have to confess that I’ve never understood the attraction,” said the younger man. “I abhor smoking; it’s a filthy habit.”

“It is indeed!” said Alatar, this time sending multiple tiny rings chasing each other around the head of his companion, who laughed at the trick. “That is precisely, Charles, why I was so keen on creating this device. It produces no ash, leaves no lingering smell of smoke, and is entirely benign, health wise.”

He held up what appeared to be a typical tobacco pipe, but embedded in its stem was a glass cylinder. Within that cylinder, a transparent liquid glowed blue in the dim light.

“What was it you called it?” Charles asked.

“A ‘Qalyan’. It is a name I encountered on my eastern travels. Strictly speaking, it references a type of a hookah that is used in the east to smoke traditional pipeweed. But, since the original Qalyan often uses liquid to cool the smoke, I thought I might adopt the name for my own creation.”

Alatar drew deeply at the mouthpiece, and then breathed out the smoke in a large plume. Beyond the light of the porch, the two men could hear laughter, and a dim knot of figures could be seen approaching the front gate. “Good evening, gentlemen!” A tall cloaked man waved his hand as the group passed by.

“Evening, Matthias,” answered Alatar. “Headed to the Pony?”

“Aye! Won’t you come with us…?”

“In time…in time….”

The man nodded, and then rejoined his group. They faded off into the darkness that swaddled the village road.

“You’ve often alluded to your eastern travels,” said Charles. “But what places have you visited over the years?”

“Oh, far too many to recount in one evening; it would take more time than that just to list them all, and most are unlikely to be familiar to you. Some, in fact, are now places whose names have been lost to all but a few.”

“What…you mean there are places you’ve seen that no longer exist?”

“Do you find that so unlikely? I am much, much older than you, Charles, and yet there are towns and villages that thrived only a dozen years ago, but that today have been totally extinguished: by war; by abandonment; by disease. The world is always changing, always sifting its inhabitants, always rearranging the present; yet pressing ever forward: learning; experimenting; searching….”

“Searching? For what?”

“Ah! That’s the real question, isn’t it? What is life all about, after all….” Alatar chewed on the tip of the Qalyan thoughtfully, and then raised his eyebrows at Charles. “What do you think?”

“What do I think? About the meaning of life? It seems that would be a better question for you to answer. You’re the one who’s had so many more years to ponder the issue, after all. And aren’t you the wiser of the two of us?” Charles smiled innocently.

“Dodging the question does not answer it, Master Charles!” said the old man, “Nor is the number of one’s years any guarantee of wisdom, as you ought to know.”

“But you do have some of your own thoughts on the subject, I’m sure. I mean, you can’t have had the experiences you’ve had without coming to some –” Charles broke off suddenly and slapped at his arm. “Damn these mosquitoes! Why don’t they ever bite you?!”

“Obviously because I’m not the one asking the annoying questions! But, here, take a few puffs from the Qalyan, and they’ll leave you alone.”



Charles took the pipe and drew on it, then blew out the smoke. A smile broke over his features. “Hey! It tastes like licorice!”

“Do you like licorice?”

“Very much!”

“Then that’s why it tastes that way. The flavor changes with each person’s whims, you know….”

“You’re kidding, right?” Charles asked, returning the Qalyan.

“Would I kid you?” The old man smiled. “Now, with regard to the meaning of life, I sense that you are going to insist on turning the issue back on me. But, since I’m also in a pleasant mood this evening, I’ll allow myself be baited…this time.”

Alatar leaned forward in his chair, propping his chin atop his fingertips. He lifted his gaze toward the darkened front yard and stroked his short-cropped beard. The lightning bugs were just starting to twinkle in the bushes at the road’s edge.

“It all begins with whether there is meaning to life at all, of course, but I think we can dispense with that issue straight away. Neither of us is an atheist, correct?”


“Then that’s the tough part dealt with. We needn’t go into the problem C.S. Lewis described: you know, advising a would-be atheist that he couldn’t be too careful about his reading material.” Alatar chuckled. “Alright then, what does that leave us with? Really, simply with whether the meaning of life is individual or collective. That is, whether there is the purpose, or just multiple individual purposes. Your call….”

The purpose works best for me.”

“Ah! Gabriel told me you were clever! But, why so?”

“Because if there are only individual purposes, that pretty much makes things devolve into no purpose at all, doesn’t it? With everyone’s purpose being equally valid, there’s nothing that can be true and nothing false; everything is subjective, which means that all purposes are equally…well…meaningless.”

“Well done! So, we know there is a purpose. That’s the beginning of all wisdom. And with such a monumental conviction in hand, we would do well now to adjourn to the Pony.”

“What?! But we’re just getting started here, aren’t we? Why head to the Pony in the middle of such a discussion?!”

“Because, there is no better way to contemplate what the purpose of all of our existence is than over a pint.”

“But, wait! Surely you can do better than that! I mean, in all your travels…?”

“In all my travels, Charles, I have seen many, many things, and to recount them all here, whilst the merry companionship at the Pony remains untasted and untested, would be an insult not only to what I have seen, but also to the most important aspect of existence.”

“And that is?”

“And that is, that the Creator has a marvelous sense of humour, and that He desires our happiness.”

“Are you sure about that? I mean, for all people?”

“Yes, for all people. That does not mean that He approves of our conduct along the way, by any means, or that all paths lead equally to Him, or even that all paths lead to him at all. But the desire that we all find joy, friendship, love, and hope; that we learn to want only the best for others; that we come to know that there is purpose to all we do; that there is meaning in honour, loyalty, self-sacrifice, and even suffering; I know that these are all true, and all part of the bigger plan….

“…but right now, part of that bigger plan is also awaiting us…at the Pony.” Alatar winked.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that I have an ulterior motive in wanting to get you there, my boy! See, the moon is just rising, and that means we are awaited.”

“Awaited! By whom? I’m not in much of a mood for merrymaking this evening.”

“Ah, you will be with the proper company.”

“But my proper company is unlikely to be at the Pony this evening; she’s in Italy.”

“Are you so sure about that?” Alatar winked again.

“Wait! You mean Sogna’s here too?! How on earth did you manage that?!”

“There are many mysteries in this world, Charles, and it is not my intention to enlighten you concerning all of them. So, come along…”

“Well, alright. But, speaking of mysteries, what about these mosquitoes?” Charles asked. “Are they part of that bigger purpose as well?” He slapped at another of the annoying creatures.

“Ah, that is a different topic entirely,” said the old man, handing him the Qalyan once more. “And it is one that we must pursue in the company of your paramour; the ramifications of original sin and of the Fall.….”

“Hey! Now this tastes like a Guinness!”

“I told you it changes….”

“Then you really are a wizard, aren’t you?”

“I told you that as well.”

“So, if you’re a wizard, and if you know so much, why on earth did you choose this Ranger’s outfit for me to wear to this village? I’m not a Ranger, you know.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that, my boy. I wouldn’t be so sure….”