Monday, December 29, 2014


J.R.R. Tolkien would be turning 123 years old this week—he was born on January 3, 1892. Were he alive now, he would be oldest human ever, but he would still fall eight years short of Bilbo Baggins’s hobbit record. Maybe you’re a Tolkienphile, and you knew that. Actually, I knew that, too. Tolkien’s books are what inspired me to become a writer. My oldest son’s middle name is “Balin.” I named my dog “Pippin.”

But there are J.R.R. Tolkien fans, and then there is Emil Johansson.

A Swedish chemical engineering student, Johansson first read The Lord of the Rings in 2000. A dozen years later, he published a website that he called the Lord of the Rings Project. He generally shortens it to LotrProject. That’s about all he does halfway.

His website includes perhaps the most extensive genealogy of Middle-Earth, including family trees for, well, just about everybody. Want to know if the dwarves Balin and Oin are distant cousins? Just look it up. And there is a historical timeline of… everything. When did the city of Gondolin fall in the First Age? When were the Rings of Power created in the Second Age? When did Boromir set off for Rivendell in the Third Age? It’s there.

There’s even a Periodic Table of Middle Earth. And a map of the routes taken by each member of the Fellowship of the Ring. Want to know how long far Frodo and Sam traveled each day? Check it out. Johansson may know more about the comings and goings of Gandalf and Gollum than most Civil War historians know about the travels of Robert E. Lee. Really, I’m not kidding.

Perhaps most remarkable is Johansson’s census of Middle-Earth. Basically, he went through Tolkien’s books—The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the epic tales in The Silmarillion—and he took note of every named character. All of them. And then he crunched the numbers—about race and sex and life expectancy and population.

All I’ve done is travel through the site and pick out some of his most interesting findings. If you’ve only seen the movies—never read the books—then you may encounter some spoilers here. But really, if you’ve only seen the movies, you probably haven’t read this far. Here is a numerical trip through the geeked-out glory of Middle-Earth, divided into categories:


1. Among the characters mentioned by name in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, 474 are humans, 224 are hobbits, 98 are elves, and 52 are dwarves.

2. Only 18 percent of the total number of characters are female—not due to a lack of females in Middle-Earth but rather because Tolkien simply didn’t describe many of them.

3. However, 71 named hobbits—nearly one-third of all hobbits mentioned—are female.

4. Of the 14 “good” Valar—Tolkien’s version of the denizens of Mount Olympus—seven are male, and seven are female. There is a 15th—the male Morgoth, the source of all evil on Middle-Earth.

5. Although there is a disparaging reference to Gloin’s wife in the film The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, only one female dwarf is actually named in Tolkien’s books. She is Dis, the mother of Fili and Kili, the youngest warriors who were members of Thorin and Company.


6. Elves live forever, unless killed, but Johansson figured the life span of a dwarf to be roughly 195 years—although that takes into account a rather small sample size and the fact that most of the dwarves mentioned in the books died in battle.

7. One of the original dwarves created—Durin the Deathless—lived to be nearly 2,400 years old.

8. Dwalin, brother of Balin and member of Thorin and Company, is the dwarf with the second-longest known life span—340 years.

9. At the time of their death during the Battle of the Five Armies, Fili (82) and Kili (77) were young by dwarven standards.

10. The dwarf with the shortest known life span, Fror, was slain by a dragon at age 37.

11. The life expectancy of men depends on one’s ancestry. Numenoreans and their descendants lived, on average, about 237 years. Other men averaged an 82-year life span.

12. At the time of The Fellowship of the Ring, Aragorn was—believe it or not—about 88 years old. He was the last of the Numenoreans and lived to be 210.

13. The oldest living man, Elros, lived to be 500 years old, but he was a half-elf who chose to be a man (his brother Elrond chose to be an elf and spent about 6,000 more years on Middle-Earth). Aside from Elros, twenty known men lived at least 300 years (a dozen exceeded 400 years).

14. There is one account of a human who lived only to the age of three—Lalaith, a girl who died during a plague.

15. Every line of kings of men—of Numenor, Gondor, Arnor, Arthedain, and the Dunedain—saw a decline in their life expectancy as the years passed

16. The second-longest life span of any hobbit in history was that of Bilbo Baggins himself, who was age 131 (one year older than Gerontius Took—the “Old Took”) when he sailed into the West.

17. Bilbo didn’t even approach the age of the oldest hobbit. That would be Smeagol—aka Gollum—who perished in Mount Doom at the age of 589.


18. Not surprisingly, the highest-known population of Middle-Earth—judging only by the described characters in Tolkien’s books—occurred at the end of the Third Age, during the events described in The Lord of the Rings.

19. The second-highest-known population era peaked around the year 500, at the end of the First Age, just before the Wars of Beleriand and the Great Battle.

20. The first man is mentioned about halfway through the First Age.

21. Feanor, considered perhaps the mightiest of all elves of Middle-Earth, had seven sons.

22. The hobbit who fathered the most children? That would be Sam Gamgee. Samwise and his wife (the former Rose Cotton), had 13 children. And Sam was one of six children himself.


23. In The Hobbit, the approximate distance traveled by Bilbo and his companions to Rivendell was 397 miles. It took them 38 days to get there.

24. They rested in Rivendell for 23 days.

25. Bilbo and his companions trekked another 457 miles to the Halls of Thranduil (the Elven King in Mirkwood Forest). It took them another 54 days to get there.

26. By far the fastest they moved during that span of time was 58 miles in one day.

27. Another 81 days later, they finally arrived at the Lonely Mountain—although that included only six days of actual travel.

28. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and his three hobbit pals traveled a longer route to Rivendell (458 miles). But they made it there faster (27 days).

29. They rested in Rivendell for a whopping 64 days.

30. Then they traveled another 464 miles to Lothlorien. Including their excitement in the Mines of Moria, that trek took them another 27 days.

31. They stayed in Lorien for 30 days.

32. Frodo and Sam had to travel another 880 miles (some of it with their Fellowship companions). It took them 37 days to reach Mount Doom.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


The closing lines of My Mantelpiece, the memoirs of civil rights icon Carolyn Goodman (published by Why Not Books in 2014), reflect a woman’s relentless pursuit of social conscience and her realization that the job is never done. In the twilight of her life, as she looked back on life lessons amid tragedy and triumph, Dr. Goodman recalled the following:

I once asked a question of a slightly younger friend: “What do you during the day?”
“Nothing,” she told me, offering a few minor examples that bolstered her statement. “What’s there to do?”
What’s there to do? I would always wonder instead: Is there time to do everything?

Last lines are final impressions. The cherry on top. The words that linger.  What follows are some of the best:

1. "He loved Big Brother." (1984 by George Orwell)

2. "I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before." (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain)

3. “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. 
I am haunted by waters.” (A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean)

4. “From here on in I rag nobody.” (Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris)

Saturday, December 13, 2014


How much would you pay for a first edition of a classic book? Fifty dollars? Maybe $100? How about several million bucks?  What follows is a list of the 14 highest known prices paid for manuscripts and books.
The first 13 largely represent iconic and ancient texts, although the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers didn’t quite make the list. And there are certainly classics among them, including works by Chaucer and Shakespeare, although original copies of Don Quixote and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland didn’t quite make the cut either. 
But the 14th book? That was auctioned off on December 13, 2007. And it may surprise you: 
1) $30.8 million—Codex Leicester
This collection of largely scientific writings by Leonardo da Vinci was named after Thomas Coke, the Earl of Leicester, who purchased it in 1719. The 72-page original document is considered perhaps the most famous of his 30 journals, covering topics as varied as why fossils can be found in mountains and why the moon is luminous. Bill Gates bought it at Christie’s auction house in 1994. He had its pages scanned into digital image files, some of which were later offered as screen savers.

2) $21.3 million—Magna Carta
In an attempt to limit the King of England’s powers, proclaiming that his will was not arbitrary, the feudal barons of England created this 13th-century document, which got the ball rolling toward the rule of constitutional law. Important stuff. And expensive stuff (in 2007)—especially for what is believed to be a copy of a copy. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014


Leonard Da Vinci. Alexander Graham Bell. Thomas Edison. Dr. Seuss. Really, has anyone been more inventive?

Consider the evil Once-ler in The Lorax, who stays in his Lerkim on top of his store, tells his story via a Whisper-Ma-Phone (his whispers coming down through a snergelly hose) and makes his own clothes out of miff-muffered moof. What exactly is a Lerkim or miff-muffered moff? How does a Whisper-Ma-Phone work? Does it matter?

Or how about little Cat Z from The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, who removes his tiny hat to release VOOM, an unexplained bit of clean-up magic.  Or a Zans (good for opening cans, according to One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish). Or Oobleck, the green, gummy goo that falls from the sky in the Kingdom of Didd. Or mile after mile of the Lorax’s beautiful Truffula Trees—“The touch of their tufts was much softer than silk. And they had the sweet smell of fresh butterfly milk.” Unfortunately, the soft tufts can be knitted into Thneeds (a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need), which sells for $3.98.

So in the tradition of the good doctor, we at the Why Not 100 have created a store of sorts that sells imagination. We’re stocking it with a collection of 79 creations that can only be found (and named) in the pages of Dr. Seuss—from natural phenomena (Stickle-bush trees) and nutrients (Glunker Stew) to instruments (Three-Nozzled Bloozer) and ammunition (Kick-a-Doo Powder). We’ve even categorized them for you:

1. Whisper-Ma-Phone (The Lorax)
2. Audio Telly O-Tally O-Count (Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book)
3. Star-Off Machine (The Sneetches)
4. Zans (One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish)
5. Thinker-Upper (The Glunk that got Thunk)
6. Un-Thinker (The Glunk that got Thunk)
7. Wamel (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
8. Faddle (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
9. Throm-dim-bu-lator (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
10. Gick (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
11. Goor (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
12. Skrux (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
13. Snux (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
14. Snoor (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
15. Borfin (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
16. Super-Axe-Hacker (The Lorax)

17. Utterly Sputter (The Butter Battle Book)
18. Eight-Nozzled Elephant-Toted Boom Blitz (The Butter Battle Book)
19. Jigger-Rock Snatchem (The Butter Battle Book)
20. Bitsy Big-Boy Boomero (The Butter Battle Book)
21. Snick-Berry-Switch (The Butter Battle Book)
22. Kick-a-Doo Powder (The Butter Battle Book)
23. Moo-Lacka-Moo (The Butter Battle Book)
24. Triple-Sling-Jigger (The Butter Battle Book)

25. One-Wheeler Wubble (I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew)
26. Happy Way Bus (I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew)
27. Abrasion-Contusions (If I Ran the Circus)
28. Roller-Skate-Skis (If I Ran the Circus)
29. Ga-Zoom (Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!)
30. Zike Bike (Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!)
31. Zumble Zay (Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!)
32. Bumble Boat (Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!)
33. Crunk Car (Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!)

34. Welcoming Horn (If I Ran the Circus)
35. Three-Nozzled Bloozer (If I Ran the Circus)
36. One-nozzled Noozer (If I Ran the Circus)
37. Poogle-Horn (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)

38. Oobleck (Bartholomew Cubbins and the Oobleck)
39. Pants eating plants (Do You Know How Lucky You Are?)
40. Grickle –grass (The Lorax)
41. Snide (What Was I Scared Of?)
42. Brickel Bush (What Was I Scared Of?)
43. Tutt-a-Tutt Tree (You’re Only Old Once)
44. Dike Trees (The King’s Stilts)
45. Stickle-bush Trees (If I Ran the Circus)
46. Truffula Trees (The Lorax)

47. Beezle-nut juice (Horton Hears a Who)
48. Dried-fried clam chowder (The Butter Battle Book)
49. Moose-moss (Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose)
50. Caviar SoufflĂ© (You’re Only Old Once)
51. Pemmican Patties (You’re Only Old Once)
52. Terrapin Toast (You’re Only Old Once)
53. Glunker Stew (The Glunk that got Thunk)
54. Who-pudding (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)
55. Who-hash (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)
56. Who-roast-beast (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

57. Optoglymics (You’re Only Old Once)
58. Nooronetics (You’re Only Old Once)
59. Bus Driver’s Blight (You’re Only Old Once)
60. Chimney Sweep Stupor (You’re Only Old Once)
61. Prune-pickers Plight (You’re Only Old Once)
62. Internal Organ Olympics (You’re Only Old Once)
63. Wuff-Whiffer (You’re Only Old Once)
64. Sniff-Scan (You’re Only Old Once)
65. Loganberry-colored pills (You’re Only Old Once)
66. Eyesight and Solvency Test (You’re Only Old Once)

67. Thneed (The Lorax)
68. Miff-muffered moof (The Lorax)
69. Snuvv (The Lorax)
70. Gruvvulous Glove (The Lorax)
71. Lerkim (The Lorax)
72. Gluppity-Glupp (The Lorax)
73. Schloppity-Schlopp (The Lorax)
74. Glunk (The Glunk that got Thunk)
75. Jivvanese (Do You Know How Lucky You Are?)
76. Dooklas (Do You Know How Lucky You Are?)
77. Gizz (Do You Know How Lucky You Are?)
78. Schlopp (Oh, The Thinks You Can Think)
79. Voom (The Cat in the Hat Comes Back)