The Quest of the Shandar Wizards

In this episode of Dungeons & Dorkwads, our 7th level magic-user, Noble Smith, embarks on a perilous quest to the dungeons of his past. Yes, our brave hero ventures deep into the mines of his parents’ garage. And what treasures he finds! A priceless time capsule from the years 1979-1982, filled with his old D&D gear, circa The Third Age of Sauron (aka The Later Carter/Early Reagan Administrations). And more.

Binder 1

Noble: Hey man, are you ready to go on the Quest of the Shandar Wizards?

Ethan: I am a ready! Although I am afraid. And do not know the way. Oh wait, what are the Shandar Wizards?

Noble: Open up this brown vinyl binder, and you shall see.

Binder open

Ethan: Whoa. Look at all this amazing stuff. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Close that cover! First — when was the last time you saw this? How exactly were you were reunited with this ancient and invaluable relic, or dare I say, gateway, to your youth?


Noble: It was in my parents’ garage. In a box. I had forgotten that it existed. So much great stuff was in there. All of my early writing efforts. And my very first D&D map, drawn when I was 11!

First map

Ethan: I love how all this precious D&D stuff is hidden behind the covers of a brown vinyl, recycled three-ring binder from Conover Insurance Inc. And that label maker. That is a rare magical item.

Shandar chaotic

Noble: Yes! Good old Conover insurance of Yakima, WA. My dad’s office and treasure-trove for a young writer/gamer in need of supplies including the DYMO Label Maker of Illumination. I labeled everything in my room with that sweet baby. “Comic Book Collection” and “Tolkien Bookshelf.” Even “Middle-earth Pipe Collection.” I just went label crazy.


Ethan: I had a label maker too, and used it to label my Neil Diamond, ELO and Wings albums. This must have been some viral geek obsession, labeling everything.

Noble: These treasures were very important to us. Maybe we thought they would disappear from the world if we didn’t keep them secret and keep them safe. And keep them labeled. We couldn’t predict the magic of eBay. Let’s look inside my binder with its “A D AND D’s” label.

Ethan: Yet, it appears to be guarded by more than just orcs. There’s a strange white disk on the cover, er, I mean gateway. A symbol or rune? It burns us! It binds us! What shall we do? Cast a fireball?

Conover symbol

Noble: Speak “cantaloupe” and enter?

Ethan: OK, I say “Melon.”  Then “Mello Yello” just to be safe. What happens?


Noble: Good enough! The doors swing open to reveal its many secrets. Look, there’s a title page done in calligraphy for my first fantasy novel “The Quest of the Shandar Wizards” and the first Star Wars Sunday comic, and my first dungeon map and . . . umm . . . Miss January, 1981. (My first crush.) There’s also things like the first Walkman manual! I would listen to Wings and ELO and rock out!


Ethan: Your binder reminds me of my oh so similar brown notebook decorated with DYMO labels. Noble (or perhaps I should say, ahem, Shandar the Chaotic), it’s weird how parallel our experiences were. In my various piles of D&D stuff, I also found similar treasures, such as my old Star Wars fan club newsletters (but no Playboy centerfolds). What’s with calling “AD&D” “A D AND D’s”?

Noble: Yeah, why the extra S on the end? I don’t know. Everybody in my town said it that way. Weird place.

Ethan: Well you were from Yakima.

Noble: Yes! But I grew up a few blocks away from Kyle MacLachlan, one of the icons of Geekdom: Paul Atreides, Agent Dale Cooper, and the Mayor of Portlandia.

Ethan: Wait, you knew Kyle MacLachlan? Did you grow up in Twin Peaks, Washington?

Noble: I used to stalk the poor man. The summer of 1984 I rode my bike up and down his street waiting for him to come back to his dad’s house after filming Dune. I sent him a fan letter. Here’s my first draft in which I spelled his name wrong!

Kyle MacWhat

Noble: Anyway, he rolled up one day in this brand new Jeep convertible with a friggin’ gold loop earring! Wow! I was blown away by his coolness. He showed me the book of stills from the movie and said solemnly, “See this actor who plays Gurney Halleck? He and I became the best of friends. He is going to be famous in America one day. Noble, remember his name.” And I did. Because he was talking about Patrick Effin’ Stewart. Here’s a photo of my autographed copy of Dune from Kyle. He told me to “Keep up the acting.” But I didn’t.


Ethan: Wow. Too bad that movie was so terribly wonderfully awful.

Noble: It was a spectacular failure. But hey! We got to see Sting in an armored/booby-trapped loincloth.


Ethan: Hot.

Noble: But not as amazing as Miss January, 1981. You know what’s so awesome about that Playboy Centerfold, Karen Elaine Price, tucked away in the back of my D & D’s binder? Look at the top of the page. It says “Playmate Data Sheet.” Just like a D&D character sheet! What do you think her Charisma was?

Data Sheet

Ethan: 18. 19? 36-26-36? Ah…. the missing link between D&D and Playboy. Karen Elaine’s strength, wisdom, intelligence probably not so high.

Karen Price

Noble: Dude, you are so wrong. I looked her up on Google and it turns out she became a stuntwoman and did a bunch of movies. So her Dex was very high, at least.

Ethan: I had a character named Lord Elloron. Here’s his “Data Sheet”: “Turn ons”: gold, killing shit, feeling righteous. “Turn offs”: orcs, evil stuff, rolling 1s.

Noble: My wizard Shandar the Chaotic: “Turn ons”: disarray, maelstroms, havoc. “Turn offs”: homework, bullies, Hall and Oates.

Ethan: I also love the calligraphy work on your cover page to the Shandar Wizards story.

Shandar calligraphy

Noble: Thank you kindly! I was big into calligraphy nibs. If you’ve never done calligraphy, the nib is the tip of your pen, and I had many different nibs. Dear God, I was such a geek.

Ethan: And you used 3-hole punched lined paper. Blank paper did not exist in those days. All we had was 3-hole punched and lined paper, and graph paper, and the backs of purple mimeographed biology tests. Or in your case, religion tests. FYI, kids, calligraphy is a gateway drug to lead figurine painting. Your drawings are really good.


Noble: Thank you! I spent a lot of time with my drawings. And with Miss Karen Elaine Price. I think I was a budding Alan Lee, right? And that drawing of Shandar the Chaotic blasting spells was done on the back of a religion test (I went to Catholic school) about different kinds of sin and guilt. I got a “C” on that test. (But I did not feel guilty at all and just a wee bit sinful.) Here’s a drawing I did of a Rakshasa I called “Orencale.”


Ethan: You know Tolkien got his start for The Hobbit while doodling on the back of an exam. You bad-ass Catholic boys are all the same.

Noble: I loved the fact that the Rakshasa was “lawful evil.” I had no idea what that meant when I first saw it. But it sounded good. It sounded like that Rakshasa would have gotten an “F” on his religion class test. And then he would have smoked his pipe all the way to the principal’s office.

Ethan: Or, maybe lawful evil characters could have aced the test, but to be evil, they tanked on purpose.  The chaotic ones, good and evil, they were the stoners peeling out of school in their muscle cars and wearing Ozzy, The Doors and Rush patches on their denim jackets. But Shandar the Chaotic, do not think you will escape without explaining that amazingly absurd photo of you doing your Sherlock Holmes impression. Your parents let you smoke when you were 14?

A good smoke

Noble: My parents were like, “Just so long as you don’t put pot in those things we’re OK with your little pipe collection.” Actually, I was so eccentric that I just amused the crap out of my parents. I was just a manifestation of their repressed eccentricities. I was thirteen in that picture. A very short goofball in a deerstalker hat. I bought that pipe with some of my Christmas money. I still have it. I smoked real tobacco. But the pipe smoke really hurt my tongue! So I would only do it every once in a while. I wasn’t a committed smoker. I would wear that deerstalker with a pipe between my teeth painting D&D figurines and listening to Rush.

Old dragon

Ethan: That is awesome. You were really getting into the role back then. Larper! And you listened to Rush?

What is a geek

Noble: Check this out. Last year I went to a Rush concert with my Tolkien buddies from childhood. My best friend Dan was one of them. I found a letter from him in my “A D AND D’s” binder where he uses “Geek”  for the first time. Don’t you think it’s awesome that he had to tell me what a geek was? And explains it in a footnote! The letter is dated 1979. Dan is the one who gave me Miss January, God bless his generous heart. He warned me not to let my mom read the dirty stuff in his letter.

Ethan: What was the dirty stuff? Related to Miss January, 1981?

Noble: Dan was talking about his girlfriend. She played the flute in the school marching band! You know those band girls in their uniform’s and Sgt. Pepper hats. A geek’s fantasy. Need I say more?

Ethan:  Me, I had a Stg Pepper’s +7 Heart of Loneliness. I didn’t kiss a girl till my senior year. True story! I got better.


Noble: By the way, I just think it’s so great that you have a girlfriend now. It gives hope to geeks everywhere.

Ethan: I spent a lot of time and money upping my Strength and Charisma, drinking from that cursed Vial of Stat Growth Hormone. Let’s hope she never find out.

More Dork-offs are coming soon. But if you can’t get enough of Ethan and Noble, check out their most recent Tolkien-themed articles on Boing Boing and The Huffington Post. Here’s Ethan’s review of The Desolation of Smaug, and Noble’s “Top Ten Things You May Not Know About Legolas.”


Hobbitpalooza Part 2: Special Hobbit Shut-Down Edition

Welcome back, dorkwads. We know we left you hanging at the end of the last Dork-off, like in a two-parter After School Special or Happy Days double-shot. In this Dungeons & Dorkwads “Dork-off,” Ethan Gilsdorf and Noble Smith complete their Hobbitalooza! with “Hobbitalooza, Part 2: Special Hobbit Shut-Down Edition” of Dungeons & Dorkwads. In this episode, we look closely at Sauron’s fiery vagina cat-eye, then turn our attention to Benedict Cumberbatch’s “batch” and Peter S. Beagle’s “beagle.” We’re also giving away a second copy of Jemima Catlin’s new illustrated edition of The Hobbit — which retails for $30! [Read till the end to find out how to win.] As Smaug says in the new Hobbit trailer, “Come now … Don’t be shy … Step into the light …”

Ethan: … and we’re back.

Noble: Where were we? Lost in a Goblin cave? John Boehner’s tanning bed?

Ethan: I think we just made the jump to hyperspace. We traveled through space, through time, and through Gandalf’s dirty robe. Wow, that felt good.

Up_cloakNoble: It’s like we never even left part one of this Hobbitpalooza! (Dork-off part 1.)

Ethan: And yet [scratches non-existent beard] we did. There and back again. So where were we?

Noble: We were talking about the 1977 televised cartoon version of The Hobbit.

Ethan: Now I remember. It wasn’t a dream. It was a place. And you and you and you…and you were there. And Toto was there. And so was Kansas, ELO and Supertramp. But you couldn’t have been could you? And I was trying to analyze why that cartoon looked so weird. And then I stumbled upon this, from the most reliable news source on the Internet, Wikipedia. No, that other reliable news source, the New York Times. This comes from the Times‘ TV review when The Hobbit first aired in 1977:

“The concept and drawings were completed in this country, but the film itself was put together in Japan.”

Doe eyed bilbo

Which explains the weird anime-like look. Big, doe-like eyes, choppy animation. As far as fluid cartoon motion goes, not exactly Disney or Warner Bros. quality.

Noble: Yes. They were the ones who butchered The Return of the King cartoon that came out a couple of years later. The Lord of the Rings animated film (that Peter S. Beagle wrote) was directed by Ralph Bakshi and was released in between those two (1978). By the way, did you know that Glenn Yarborough, the guy who sang “The Greatest Adventure” and “Frodo of the Nine Fingers” in the Rankin/Bass Hobbit, is still alive? And he looks like a jolly Dwarf!

DwarfboroughEthan: I was wondering who did the singing. Some of those songs are haunting. You know, I have an interview with Bakshi somewhere. I talked to him once. And I know you are pals with Beagle, right?

Noble: Yes! Peter wrote The Last Unicorn of course. And most of us who were born in the Sixties were introduced to Tolkien’s trilogy via the gold foil box set—the one with Tolkien’s own watercolors on the covers.

Ethan's original Tolkien "Gold Foil Boxed Box Set" from 1978.

Ethan’s original Tolkien “Gold Foil Boxed Box Set” from 1978.

Peter wrote the introduction to that edition. Anyway, it’s really hard to do an adaptation that’s loyal to the source without being a slave to it. And I think Peter did an amazing job on the Bakshi film. And he got paid a pittance by Saul “The Necromancer” Zaentz (who still controls the film rights and ended up making hundreds of millions off of Peter Jackson’s version over twenty years later).

Saul Necromancer Zaentz

Saul “Necromancer” Zaentz

Wait a minute. Saul Zaentz and Glenn Yarborough look like they are in the same Dwarf Company! (Update: a few months after this dork-off was published Saul Zaentz passed away. His amazing film legacy cannot be denied, having produced, among many other projects, works like Amadeus, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The English Patient.)

Ethan: Yes, they were cousins on their mother’s side. Their mothers were brothers: Fondáin, son of Fondu, from a great line of cheese merchants, and Nori, son of Kombu, a sushi chef known to be deadly with a cleaver. (Yes, female Dwarves DO have beards. We’ve been there.)

Noble: Anyway, that crazy ass Czech version that resurfaced after 50 years was like somebody took The Hobbit and put it into a blender with a bunch of LSD.

My god, that thing was painful to watch. Which makes me think how wonderful Jemima Catlin’s illustrations are.

Ethan: Yes, she did such a lovely and faithful job bringing The Hobbit back to its storybook roots. There’s something rather old-fashioned about how she’s chosen to draw and paint everything, a sort of Old World, Chagall meets, uh, Grandma Moses. (I’m stretching my Art History expertise here.) She could have gone all D&D 4th edition or hyper CGI steroid-pumped realistic. But she didn’t.


A 4th Edition bad-ass dragon. Not in this Hobbit.

Noble: And that’s what I love about her drawings too. They remind me of Tolkien’s own pictures. There’s nothing computery or digital about them. Pen, ink, watercolors…and Elf magic. What’s your favorite pic from her new edition of The Hobbit?

Bilbo-Baggins-cover-modelEthan: I actually like all the spot illustrations. She’s sprinkled little bits of art everywhere: at the bottom of the pages, or tucked in and around the text, all throughout the book. During the Battle of Five Armies, she’s drawn a nice spread across the bottom of two pages, showing goblins, elves, dwarves, that’s very horizontal, and almost tells a story, left to right. It’s almost like a comic book. Or that Bayeux Tapestry. Am I over-selling this?

Catlin Orc battle

Noble: That one is great. And you’re not over -selling it. This is going to be a classic edition of The Hobbit. I love the little pictures like the sign on the fence announcing Bilbo’s yard sale, or Gandalf drinking beer and blowing colored smoke rings (and looking particularly crafty).

Gandalf_SignEthan: Yes, like the close up on a ring of keys, or an owl. She’s done a great job of bringing the details of the story to life. There’s a clever moment when the Party sees the stone-giants throwing rocks. Catlin has one giant in the lower left of the two-page spread, another on the upper right, and a rock being tossed in the middle. These little nuggets I think will get kids to keep turning the pages to see how the images integrate with the story.

Stone GiantsNoble: I love that rock flying across the page, too. I wrote a review of her book and did a Q&A which you can read on Legendarium. You can see a picture of Jemima getting attacked by a vicious squirrel!

Squirrel attackEthan: Yikes. Those squirrels can be nasty. So how did she get the gig to do the art for this new edition. According to our pals at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the publisher, Catlin’s new Hobbit “is the first new illustrated edition since Alan Lee’s iconic illustrations appeared in 1997.” Must have been a zillion people pounding down the publisher’s Black Gates to do the art.

Noble: She sent some drawings that she did in art school to HarperCollins on a whim, and the guy who runs the place, one David Brawn, said something like “Eureka! I have discovered the new artist to illustrate our illustrious new illustrated edition of The Hobbit! And her name is Jemima!” And then he put on his bowler hat and strolled down to his  private club (doing a silly walk) where he sat in a wainscoted room sipping brandy that had been warmed on the bosom of a Swiss nanny, reciting Proust by candlelight (which is what publishers in England do).

Ministry of silly walksEthan: I thought they hated French writers. Maybe Byron or Sir Walter Scott. But you, know, that is one of those classic publishing stories that makes me hates her. But I’m sure she deserves it.

Noble: Her excellent drawings (or “droar-ings,” as Mike Myers’ Simon used to say) speak for themselves. She knocked it out of the park like a Boston Red Dwarf. Right over the monster.

simonEthan: Oh, right, the game! Red Dwarves up 3-1 over the Orcs, top of 9th. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Ethan is watching the final Red Sox-Rays playoff game during this dork-off. Please forgive him.]

Noble: Go Red Dwarves! So back to the Desolation of Smaug trailer #2, or DoS.2: The Tale of Legolas and Tauriel, as we like to call it.

Ethan: I’ve seen the trailer about 17 times. I’ve done some new thinking about it, so get ready. To me, it’s clearer than ever that PJ (me and Peter Jackson are on first name “initials” basis; he calls me “EG” when we do lunch) wants his Hobbit to fit seamlessly into the tone and thematic weight of his Lord of the Rings movies. He wants them all to feel like a 6-part, 24-hour marathon of heroic fantasy adventure. In this new trailer, we see a glimpse of Sauron’s fiery vagina cat-eye—just like Frodo and Gandalf did in The Fellowship. We see hordes of marching of orcs or goblins right out of The Two Towers. There’s even a reference to an Aragorn-Arwen-like relationship, in the hint of a love interest between Legolas and Tauriel.


Noble: Fiery vagina cat-eye. Dude … if I ever own a sailing yacht or a BMW, that is what I’m going to name it.

Ethan: Do you think that Tauriel is going to die at the end of The Hobbit, so that it’s clear she won’t be showing up in The Fellowship or the other movies, and thus giving Orlando Bloom an excuse to act emotionally unavailable, grumpy, and give those far-way looks?

Noble: Yes. That will explain his vacant/I’m fey and sad face in the Lord of the Rings.

LegolossEthan: That might also explain his “The Free Peoples of Middle-earth just asked us to save the world. Anybody wanna say no?” attitude, and weird allegiance to the Fellowship.

Noble: And his smoldering Elf-on-Dwarf friendship with Gimli. Maybe the Dwarf’s sumptuous beard reminded him of a certain part of Tauriel. (Did he just say that? Yes he did!)

Gimli orEthan: The Dwarves beat the Tampa Bay Orcs! Off to the next round for the Middle-earth Series. Oh sorry.

Noble: Yay Red Dwarves!

Ethan: And what about the snippet of Smaug in the trailer—convincing dragon? Do we likes him?

The-Hobbit-The-Desolation-of-SmaugNoble: Yes, I love Smaug so far, from his big fat tail snaking into Erebor in the first Hobbit, to his big fiery vagina cat-eye. But I don’t know about actor Benedict Cucumberpatch’s voice. It just makes me think of Sherlock Smaug.

smaug_deerstalkerEthan: I want to see how they make him talk. Will he move his lips? Do dragons have lips? This will be the next debate to replace “Do balrogs have wings?” Maybe Smaug can speak using telepathy.

Noble: Well, the way they make Benedict Cucumberpatch talk is to pay him ridiculous amounts of money. And sometimes they have to tickle his armpits. Oh, you mean the digitized Smaug! Yes, I think his lips will move.

Ethan: OK, smarty-pants. Riddle me this: Why do all evil creatures have low deep computer-altered voices. Why not any high pitched whiny villains?

Noble: Like Ian Holm as Napoleon in Time Bandits!

NapoleonEthan: Napoleon was a villain?

Noble: If you were a Russian, then yes, Napoleon was a villain. And the Brits were terrified of Napoleon. Mothers used to tell their children that “Boney” would come and eat them. Now they tell them that Benedict Cucumberpatch as Julian Assange will come and eat them. Just as scary.

Scary BenedictEthan: I have to say, in this new illustrated Hobbit, Catlin’s gollum looks a little like Mick Jagger meets the Grinch. Is that a fish or a microphone or a syringe in his hand? Is this mike on?

Noble: Oh, I totally see that. But if you had to spend a weekend in a jail cell with either Mick Jagger, the Grinch or Gollum, who would you pick?


Ethan: I think the post-reformed, Whoville-integrated Grinch.

Noble: You are correct sir! That was a trick question and you gave the right answer. Nice work! Because Mick Jagger would make a shiv out of an old bedspring and gut you.

Ethan: You can’t trust these over-the-hill rockers. The Grinch would probably be a lot of fun in a jail cell. We’d reminisce about the old days when we were both super villains. I think Jagger would be a bore, and Gollum, I could never trust him, either. I’d like to see Mick and Gollum, in Thunderdome. “Two men enter, one man leaves!”

Scary Mick

Noble: Gollum would win. He would pull off Mick’s sagging skin and make a new loincloth. One with a better pocket to keep his bat wing, Orc teeth, old fish head, etc. So, let me ask you this … what do you think of Thranduil in the new Hobbit. There was that whole riding a giant moose thang…

Ethan: Wasn’t that an elk? [Checks Monster Manual]. I think he’s riding a half-elk.

Noble: Remember in the beginning of The Holy Grail how there’s all that stuff about that moose trainer.

Ethan: Yes moose … And mani interesting furry animals … Including the majestic moose. A moose once bit my sister … No realli! She was Karving her initials on the moose with the sharpened end of an interspace toothbrush given her by Svenge –her brother-in-law — an Oslo dentist and star of many Norwegian movies: “The Hot Hands of an Oslo Dentist”, “Fillings of Passion”, “The Huge Molars of Horst Nordfink”…

Thranduil_in_ElkNoble: Yes, exactly. So maybe the moose plays a big part in The Desolation of Smaug.

Ethan: Mynd you, moose bites Kan be pretti nasti… You know, Thranduil raises an interesting question—and eyebrow. There’s a weird obsession with eyebrows in Peter Jackson’s mind. All the characters have weird eyebrows.

Noble: Yes, Thranduil has eyebrows like giant molting caterpillars. Maybe they are actually secret Woodland Elf weapons. Poisoned throwing-brows.


Ethan: Those eyebrows can be pretty nasti. I want to see Smaug’s eyebrows. Then we’ll know. This all ties back to Tauriel’s lady-beard.

Noble: The eyebrows on the Rankin and Bass Smaug were awesome. He looked just a cat I had when I was a kid who would obsessively lick his balls.

Smaug CatEthan: Which was a bad role model for you, wasn’t it? Tell me about your childhood, ya? Balls. We have stooped to new lows on the dork-off.

Noble: At least you didn’t bring up old tube socks under the bed. Wait. I just did.

Ethan: Dang. Beat me to it. Ok this old Red Dwarf needs to go trim his beard here in the land of the East.

Noble: I think I need to trim my eyebrows.

Ethan: I was going to mention that. Middle-earth needs a threading salon. Hello? Also, please read below for how to win a copy of Jemima Catlin’s new illustrated Hobbit. We’ll ask a really hard question, and you’ll answer via carrier pigeon, dragon or thrush.

Noble: And don’t forget to buy Ethan’s book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks!

Ethan: And don’t forget to buy Noble’s Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life (coming October 29th in paperback). You know, that bird in The Hobbit was the original tweet.

Noble: Yes! The snail-knocking Thrush! Maybe we should start a new social media network for Hobbit freaks called Thrusher? Or Snail-knockers?

Ethan: I like it. A bird in The Hobbit is worth two in the ______________.



How to win a copy of Jemima Catlin’s new illustrated Hobbit:

Thanks to the generosity of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the publisher, we are giving away a free copy of this new, gorgeously-illustrated hardcover edition — which retails for $30! The first person to follow us on Twitter and tweet the correct answer @dungeondorks to the following question wins. Ready, set…. The question:

What is the meaning of the rune that Gandalf inscribes on Bilbo’s door at the beginning of The Hobbit?

We’re looking for the long, and as-accurate-as-possible answer. … GO! UPDATE!!! WE ALREADY HAVE A WINNER. Congratulations to @cigarboxbattle for tweeting the correct answer: “Burglar for hire.”


Hobbitalooza! In this Dungeons & Dorkwads “dork-off,” Ethan Gilsdorf and Noble Smith discuss David Cronenberg’s unknown version of The Hobbit (but why we only remember the Rankin/Bass version), plus Eight Is Enough, why ”No one shall be prettier than Legolas” and Twerking, Tolkien, Twerking, Tolkien. We also give away a copy of Jemima Catlin’s gorgeous new illustrated edition of The Hobbit. Thanks for tuning in!

Hobbit Activity

Noble: Hey Ethan, welcome to a very special edition of the Dungeons and Dorkwads Dork-off—The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Second Trailer Edition, or TH:TDoSTX2 for short.

Ethan: I think this should be called Hobbitalooza!

Noble: [me sighing] OK. Hobbitalooza is much easier to say than my crappy acronym. So welcome to Hobbitalooza, everyone!

Ethan: Yes, welcome. Today, among other topics to trash—the new Hobbit trailer, for instance, and other versions of The Hobbit through the ages—we also have a contest to plug. Our friends at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have generously donated some copies of Jemima Catlin’s gorgeous new illustrated edition of The Hobbit to give away. We dorkses, we thanks them, we do.

Noble: I loved this new edition of The Hobbit, and I gush about it and Jemima Catlin over on Legendarium. It is precious to me, yesssss!


Ethan: Sports fans, as we dork-off, please note: I’m watching my beloved home team, the Boston Red Dwarves (have you seen their beards?) battle the Tampa Bay Orcs (from Mordor, the south). Anything south of Boston is evil! But you in the Land of the West, my Noble friend, where you  elves live on Endor, you are so damned good. Lawful good. Is it hard to be so good? Anyway, please excuse any delays as I check the score. And refill my flagon of mead.

Red Beards

Noble: I wish elves had been living on the arboreal planet of Endor. Because Ewoks sucked! I hated those furry little effers. They ruined Return of the Jedi for me. And they lived in tree houses just like elves. Such a rip-off. I could go on and on about the uselessness of Ewoks, but I won’t, such is my lawful good nature. And I used to be a Boston Red Dwarves fan when I lived in Boston. They have a Green Monster which is very cool, but a lot of other teams fear it.

Ethan: Yes, that Green Monster has a hot dog-flavored breath weapon that takes 1-8 years off your baseball career. I believe it was a dragon once, when the Babe still roamed the earth, in the Second Age of Baseball, before The Curse. If we had our druthers, we’d bring baseball to Middle-earth. But enough about our national pastime. We want to pick apart the new second trailer for  The Desolation of Smaug that was released. Which is only going to make us more excited to look back at the Rankin/Bass Productions version from 1977.


Noble: Gotta love the Rankin and Bass. They boldly made the leap from stop-action Reindeer to 2D animated Dwarves.

Ethan:  Props to them. And … ahem!…. [clears throat] If you go back to their early oeuvre, such as The Year Without a Santa Claus, you’ll see the parallels between Heat Miser and Gollum. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s rank Rankin later.

Noble: [me singing] “I’m mister Heat Miser, I’m Mister Smaug…” So what did you think of the new Desolation of Smaug trailer?

Ethan: I’m always excited to see these trailers of movies I’m dying to see. Then I become depressed when it dawns on me that probably the best scenes and moments have been spoiled. Part of me wants to see the movie without all this hype, you know? Just enjoy it as it unfolds.

Noble: I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the trailer. It seemed kind of ponderous. And I’m a little worried about the liberties that they’ve taken with the story. Like having Dwarf barrels without lids on them. And making Elf chicks prettier than Orlando Bloom. Stuff like that.


Ethan: ”No one shall be prettier than Legolas”: I believe that right there in Bloom’s contract. Page 87, santa clause 18. I fear that once again Peter Jackson and Co. will be amping up the stakes every 15 minutes. But I thought the scenes in Mirkwood were pretty awesome. What a cool environment. I want to visit there. With a nice shotgun, maybe.

Noble: The Mirkwood spiders look really scary. Not at all like that crazy Russian version of the Hobbit that was done in 1985 that you wrote about. If you want to have your mind blown…in a bad way…check out Ethan’s article on, fellow dorkwads.

Ethan: You’d think the Russians would have gone all Cold War on Tolkien. But it’s actually rather silly. Check out Thorin’s day-glo orange hood and beard.

Russian ThorinNoble: By the way, that link you just sent me for that video where somebody took the Desolation of Smaug trailer and put the old Rankin and Bass animation over it was genius!

Ethan: These days, fans and artists can mash up whatever cultural references to make their own statement. Things just ain’t all simple like when I was a kid back in the oldey-times. I found a YouTube video that puts the “Down, Down to Goblin Town” song from the Rankin Bass version to scenes from the first Peter Jackson movie. There’s also a Lego version. I am waiting to see the Miley Cyrus version.

Noble: I’m amazed that Macklemore hasn’t taken the hook from “Down, Down to Goblin Town” and used it in a rap song. It’s catchy as hell! He could go to a thrift shop and dress up like an Orc. It would be boss! Anyway, I’m just so relieved that they didn’t cast Miley Cyrus as a twerking Elf. Evangeline Lily is bad enough. By the way, have you ever noticed how similar the words Twerking and Tolkien are? It’s a little disconcerting. Say them really fast. Twerking,Tolkien,Twerking,Tolkien. . . .

Ethan: I’m sure if you go to, your wildest fantasies will be realized. So, are you not pleased by the she-elf?

Noble: I love she-elves. But we’ve already got Legolas in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. Do we really need two she-elves?


Ethan: ”There ain’t enough room in this trilogy for two she-elves. Do not think I won’t kill you, Lilly.” I know—between all the hair dyeing, the hair extensions, and the blue contact lenses, it’s like Orlando Bloom isn’t really there. He’s, you know, so distant, you know?

Noble: He’s been replaced by Luke Evans (Bard the Bowman). Bard is actually Orlando Bloom as Will Turner if Orlando Bloom as Will Turner had been cast as Bard. Did that make sense?

Diptic Bard and Will

Ethan: We need hunks in Middle-earth. No girl is going to swoon for a dwarf. Or a hobbit for that matter.They like TALL dudes.

Noble: I think Azog is kind of sexy. I would like to see him slaughter some Ewoks. Just go Battle of Azanulbizar on them.


Ethan: He’s ripped for sure.

Noble: Azog is played by that stud Manu Bennet from Spartacus Blood and Sand.

Manu the Orc

Ethan: I thought Azog was played by 17,000,000 pixels?

Noble: Bennet did the mocap and the voice. That hook-arm was sick, right?

Ethan: And if you’re into kink like David Cronenberg movies, then that hook for an arm is a real turn on.

Noble: Wow! Now there’s a thought. David Cronenberg’s The Hobbit! That would have been something. I can just imagine the pitch in Hollywood. “Bilbo is this reclusive gynecologist who likes to make his own medical instruments, and this Russian mafia guy (Viggo Mortensen) forces him to go on an adventure with a mild-mannered guy who used to be a hit man (also Viggo Mortensen) but he turns into a fly and gets eaten by giant Spiders in Mirkwood Forest.”

Ethan: And then Gandalf keeps making heads explode. And the Ring is kept in a VHS case that James Woods keeps inserting into his stomach.

Noble: What Cronenberg reference was that? [me laughing and cringing at the same time]

Ethan: Dude! I’m shocked. Scanners, then Videodrome.


Noble: Ah! Thank you. I had forgotten that he directed those. Excellent 80′s references. That poster for Scanners used to freak me out! Now back to the Rankin and Bass version of The Hobbit which came out in 1977. The same year as Star Wars! This movie gets a bad rap, because it has things like Wood Elves that look like creepy skinny albino kewpie doll people voiced by Otto Preminger, and goofy Glenn Yarborough songs. But there are some great things in that animated version, like Gollum. He still scares me.


Ethan: I think I saw the TV Hobbit in 1977 before I had read the book.I watched anything on TV.

Noble: Yes, we were tools for TV back then. Any old crap came on and we watched. Like Mazes and Monsters (the subject of a future Dork-off). It’s amazing that we’re all not a horde of drooling lobotomized zombies shutting down the government and—

Ethan: ”Yes, Master Boehner. Whatever you say…” Ever notice how tan that guy is? He should be pale, like the zombie he is, spending his time indoors blocking the democratic process. He’d make a great movie villain. But I digress… I just found the TV listings for a typical evening’s dreck in November of 1977: Eight Is Enough, Charlie’s Angels, Baretta.

Noble: I don’t know if that really backs up our point, Ethan. Those three shows were all superbly written and acted serialized dramas.


Ethan: . . . and the Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.

Noble: That bear could act! 1977 was an amazing year. People were primed and ready for an animated version of The Hobbit. You know? I think that Nicholas from Eight is Enough is a Halfling.


Ethan: And then he all growed up. Back in them days, what passed as entertainment was pretty low-hanging fruit, if you follow my mixed metaphor (said the snarky guy from 2013 who watches reality TV like Bridalplasty). Here’s a snippet from the New York Times review when The Hobbit aired in November of 1977:

“The drawings frequently suggest strong resemblances to non-Tolkien characters. The dwarves look suspiciously like Snow White’s friends grown older. The goblins could have stepped out of a Maurice Sendak book.”

Bad Orcs

Noble: Man, those liberal New York Times elitists can be so cold and lofty sometimes! But did they mention the actor Brother Theodore as Gollum? He knocked it out of the park.

Ethan: They don’t. And yes, that performance is really twisted.

Noble: And what kind of weirdo calls himself Brother Theodore? It sounds like a shady Jesuit monk we had back in the day at my Catholic elementary school. “Don’t talk to Brother Theodore after school, kids. He’s not allowed to be alone with children.”

Ethan: I think Gollum would make a great babysitter. He’s asexual, right? I thought the voice for Bilbo was a disaster. No range, too leprecaun-y.

Noble: Orson Bean’s voice was just so wrong for Bilbo. It was weird hearing an American guy who was on stuff like Love American Style playing a friggin’ Hobbit from the Shire. But Bean was great as the boss with the “speech impediment” in Being John Malkovich. Although he sounded just like Bilbo.

Ethan: And who was the voice of Gandalf? That’s right, John “director of The Maltese Falcon original bad-ass” Huston. Oh yeah. Hey, the Red Dwarves won! (Much cheering and clinking of mead-filled flagons.) I’m getting sleepy here in the Land of the East. Shall we break for next time? Maybe we can call the second part of this dork-off our Shut-Down Edition. The government is running on fumes, but we are running on nostalgia.


Noble: Well, since we both have to go to bed, let’s have part two of this Dork-off be called Special Hobbit Shut-Down Edition. We’ll be back soon with Hobbitalooza, Part 2: Special Hobbit Shut-Down Edition. Stay tuned. . . .

(Hey readers! Here’s your chance to win a copy of the new edition of The Hobbit illustrated by Jemima Catlin. Just look up “Brother Theodore” on IMDB. The first person to tweet the year that this actor was born to @dungeondorks wins! UPDATE!! We have a winner! Congrats to @DenizBevan. The answer is “1906.” We will be giving away another copy in part two of this Dork-off.)

We Are Your Density!


In this Dungeons & Dorkwads “dork-off,” Ethan Gilsdorf and Noble Smith look at one of Ethan’s ancient D&D dungeons—complete with graph paper map and typed Dungeon Master’s notes. This artifact has been carbon-dated to the Early Precambrian-Reagan Era, or approximately 1981, when our young DM was a mere 15 or so years old, give or take 1-3 hit dice.

As this dork-off begins, Noble and Ethan hold the crumbling manuscript with virtual white gloves, and as they carefully brush off the Doritos and Cheetos dust, the images slowly become clearer… and clearer. Ahhhh-choo!

(Click to enlarge any image.)

Noble Smith: Hey Ethan! Are you ready for the Dungeons & Dorkwads dork-off #2? The Dorkwads Strike Back!

Ethan Gilsdorf: I am ready. Let me perform the ritual to release my inner dork. Ok stand back folks. The dork is out.

Noble: Release the dorks! So tell us a little about this awesome map and the keys to the map that you created.

Ethan: First, clearly this is the work of a genius. Notice the meticulous shading of every frigging square on the graph paper. Genius, or VERY OCD.

Map CU

Noble: I know. You were way more fastidious than I was with my maps. But that’s what makes this one awesome. This thing is a work of art. There’s something so intriguing about a dungeon map—it has a primeval allure. I want to go into that place and test myself. Just like ancient humans did when they held right of passage tests in deep caverns. Or when dungeoning dorkwads descended into their parents’ basements…

Ethan: This particular dungeon goes back to Ethan’s “gray” period. And you’ll also notice that the young Ethan the DM ran out of letters after he exhausted A thru Z, so the dungeon room and encounters are then numbered.

Noble: How old were you when you created this?


Ethan: I think I did this in my early D&D-playing years. Carbon dating is not accurate enough to distinguish middle school from high school. But I’m guessing I was in 8th grade, or else freshman/sophomore in high school. Lots of reformed gamers of my generation I speak with say they stopped playing D&D once they got to high school, but that was my sweet spot. So I’m guessing this dates to 1981? 1982? 1980?

Noble: I love how you spelled things wrong. Like “dinasaur.” It’s a true relic of your childhood. I also love that the dungeon master’s notes were done on a typewriter.

Ethan: Yes, another sign of OCD. I was a neat freak.

Noble: Do you remember typewriters, people? My first one was magic. A typewriter takes effort to use. It’s a finger workout. Metal keys striking the page. The ribbon getting caught. It’s like you’re operating a word-vehicle. You have to be the driver and the mechanic. And when the letters are hammered onto the page it makes this satisfying sound. Like a little hammer striking a blacksmith’s anvil.

Ethan: Yes, I totally agree. I was typing up a lot of my stuff then. I loved to type. I also sucked at typing, Used three fingers. Still do. But making corrections was a bear.


Noble: Well, that’s why Liquid Paper was invented. And it was created by Mike Nesmith’s mom, of all people. That’s right…the dude from The Monkees mom invented Liquid Paper.


Ethan: And that’s the kind of important information you have come to expect from Dungeons & Dorkwads. I was a young journalist and geek in training in those days (even if I did not know I’d end up being a journalist). All that was missing was the pork pie hat (with Viking horns?)

Noble: By the way, how many hit points can you replenish by eating a pork-pie hat?

Ethan: It is a tasty medieval treat. Much like lembas, one bite will sustain a man (or she-elf) for a whole day’s dungeon-crawling. Actually, I think the Pork Pie Hat was a much-feared dungeon monster. Like the lurker above, it would smother you when you least expected it. The you had to roll vs Career Change to Journalism. Even deadly than the Giant Fedora, I think.

Noble: Even though you were only in the eighth grade, this map and the notes show a lot of imagination. You had all kinds of traps and tripwires and illusions built into this dungeon. You really forced your players to look around and ask questions about the place they were in. In room 13, if they tried to reach for that heap of gold pieces–THWACK! The swinging blade/ w pendulum would come out of nowhere!

Room 13

Ethan: Damn straight. But as you’ll see on those DM’s note, there’s absolutely no backstory! It’s a pretty hack-n-slash adventure. Maybe those notes got lost, but this really is just the  wireframe for a hack fest. In my later work (my “aqua period”?) I did a much better job of trying to make a story that explained the reason why the party would be entering the dungeon. You know the “Evil Wizard Fallacy” of dungeons, that some evil lich or mad wizard just happens to waiting in the deepest, furthermost room of the dungeon, guarded by random traps and absurd monsters. How did he get there? How does he go to the bathroom? What about oxygen? Is there room service?

CU TextNoble: And where do they get their Doritos? But stop beating up on yourself, my man! Even with its faults this dungeon was still chock full of nutty D&D goodness.

Ethan: Yes, I think I was inventive in thinking of the puzzles. I like room “R” that is an anti-gravity room filled with green slime. But of course, that room has no rhyme or reason that connects it to the room before or after. Was I also AHDH as well as OCD?


Noble: But the beauty of D&D is that it gave AHDH and OCD kids something to do that fit perfectly with their disorders! (And what a bunch of acronyms! WTF?) Making meticulous maps, painting figurines for hours on end…it was therapy.

Ethan: And the therapy cured me. Today, I’m perfectly normal. That’s what my therapist tells me. Wait, I still have a therapist. And she’s never played D&D.

Noble: Is she like Dr. Malfi from The Sopranos?

Ethan: You know, I never saw The Sopranos. I was living in Middle-earth when that aired, and the Shire does not have cable.

Noble: You should play D&D with your therapist. It’s a window to your soul! (Actually, you might scare her.) So back to this map…this relic of 1981. I love how you threw things in there like the room with closing walls. It’s the garbage compactor from the Death Star.

Ethan: Wait what room is that? (shuffles papers)… stalling.

Noble: Room “N.”

Garbage compactor

Ethan: Oh yeah. Total Star Wars rip-off! “Gandalf , shut down all the garbage mashers on the Detention Level!” By the way, that was the movie that  greased the wheels of my imagination and primed me for D&D. I also like the “giant spitting cobra” in room O. Its eyes are the treasure. Players never think to dig out the eyes of their enemies as treasure.

Noble: You mean like this?

 Jewels Thieves

Ethan: Huh, never seen that before.

Noble: Anyway, I will never forget the day I saw Star Wars. I went into the lobby afterwards and all the other boys were shooting each other with imaginary blasters and having simulated lightsaber battles. I felt like a veil had been pulled from my eyes. The rest of my life BSW (before Star Wars) had been meaningless and…empty!

Ethan: I agree. That movie opened my mind, and also my heart. It made me dream big. I also fell in love with Princess Leia.


Noble: Dude. She was redonkulously hot. By the way (name dropping coming up), one of my greatest adult geek moments was sitting next to Irvin Kershner (the director of The Empire Strikes Back) and watching Empire with him while he did a spontaneous director’s commentary.

Ethan: That is so cool! And you wrote about that, right? How did you pull that one out of your bugbear?

Noble: That’s a long story! (Which you can read about here.) Years later I had the honor of attending Kersh’s memorial and Frank Oz (Yoda) gave the most amazing talk about how Kersh had inspired him to direct The Dark Crystal (which you wrote a great piece about recently).

Ethan: Thanks… I wish I had met Henson or any of the Star Wars peeps. That is amazing. I saw SW in 1977 when I was 11. And I think at that age it just seared into my mind. I saw the Ralph Bakshi animated Lord of the Rings in 1978. I started D&D the year after. These were my Holy Trinity, my formative Triumvirate of Geek Experiences.


Noble: My triumverate: Star Wars, then D&D, and then Tolkien. I didn’t seen the Bakshi version until after I had read The Lord of the Rings. Soon after I met Peter S. Beagle who wrote the script for that film, as well as the intro to LOTR that most of us Tolkien fans had in our editions. Peter and I have been friends ever since. He’s such a cool and genuine guy. And the author of one of the all-time fantasy classics. I also have another Bakshi connection. One of my first jobs was working on an interactive film with John Hurt—the man who did the voice for Aragorn.

Ethan: Whoa. (Bows to Noble).

Noble: Arise, young Jedi. (dubs Ethan with lightsaber and accidentally cuts off his arm) So that was my path.

Ethan: Pretty much my trajectory too. I guess you and I meeting WAS OUR DESTINY!

Noble: Or our “density” (we just watched Back to the Future, so I had to throw that line in). We would have had some great D&D games back in the day.


Ethan: Indeed, good sir. And it is not too late—next time we’re in the same time zone and prime materials plane. So back in the day, were you more a DM or more a player?

Noble: I was both. I loved the power of being a sub-creator when I was a DM. But I also loved going into the unknown on a quest. What I hated were dickwad DMs who made it impossible to get through their dungeons. “Oh no! You opened the door and there are 500 Orcs, an army of skeletons controlled by a Lich, a Demogorgon and a Mind Flayer. And you just breathed a bunch of spores from yellow mold. You’re hosed!”

Ethan: I agree. That was never fun. I’m actually having a lot of fun still playing now. Maybe more so now that all the interpersonal, subverted, adolescent male aggression we played out in-game is gone.

Noble: (me still ranting) Or they’d be like, “You didn’t see that Intellect Devourer. Your intellect has gone to zero. You can’t even remember how to wipe your butt, let alone wield a sword. Crap like that.”

Ethan: Yes, that DM was not getting laid. Not that I was.

Noble: Ha! Me neither. But we didn’t need to get laid. We had D&D! (me laughing uproariously at this ludicrous statement)

Ethan: I think each player “gets off” on different aspects of the game.There were the heroics—I mean, what 137 pound sophomore didn’t enjoy wielding all that power?There was problem-solving, and of course the fantasy escapism  One player in my gang loved drawing pictures of his character—that might have been his way to immerse himself. As a teenager, I loved making maps of dungeons and lands.  But everyone in our group who took a turn playing DM was never a hard ass. And funny shit would come up in battles and interactions that also let us flex our budding Monty Python sensibilities. We had tons of laughs. Gaming made me smile. Still does.

Noble: That’s what was so great–the sense of adventure and the stupid humor. Monty Python was such a huge part of the D&D experience as well. I don’t know how many times somebody lost hit points and said “It’s just a flesh wound.”


Ethan: Or, “I’m not dead yet.” To be honest, as much as I loved and lived for the game (and I played for 6 hours a week almost every Friday night for 6 years in a row) there was always something disappointing about D&D. I wanted it to be even more immersive, more “real,” more perfect. And more serious. I think as I got more sophisticated about what kind of game I liked to play — not just killing stuff, but telling a narrative– sometimes I got impatient with my fellow players for not being as religiously obsessive about the seriousness of it all.

Noble:  Well, that’s because we were fledgling writers. And I felt the same way. That’s why I started creating my own fantasy stories. The story was definitely more important to me than the mechanics of the game. That’s why I play a modified Advanced Dungeons & Dragons with my nine-year-old son. It’s way more story based than the old school version where you’re constantly looking up things in the Handbook/Manual/Guide. I’m sure we’ll get into more rules as the years go by, but we’re having fun just diving into the rich story that we’re creating.

Ethan: So back to the map: “T—honey trap.” I wonder what that was all about? “Effect: players lick themselves with silly abandon for 1-4 rounds.” Oh, wait there’s narrative here: the payoff is in room W: if the players haven’t cleaned off the honey, the giant bees will attack them. Oh, I left a “clue” in room “U — dead bee.” That’s foreshadowing. Guess I was a nice DM. I also played a TON of other board games prior to D&D, including Clue.


Noble: I love the bee thing. I was going to mention that. Hilarious. The game Clue was big at our house. My brother and I played all the time. Which brings me to an interesting fact about the word “clue.” It came from the word “clew” (a skein of thread) and so the etymology of “clue” was based on the story of Theseus entering the Labyrinth. The goddess Ariadne gave the hero a ball of yarn (a clew) so that he could unwind it as he entered the maze, and then follow the clew back to escape. D&D is just the old Theseus and the Minotaur story expanded.


Ethan: That’s a great bit about the etymology of clue. I always wanted to connect ancient myths to my nerdly obsession with gaming and now you’ve done it. Actually, when I was in high school, I wrote a term paper about the Palace at Knossos, where supposedly the Minotaur lived. I was very clever to incorporate my D&D interests into schoolwork. I also made an animated movie about a knight named Sir Hector (maybe that’s another dork-off) and wrote a paper about ancient Roman siege warfare. I still have these somewhere. Dude, now you are the expert on Greek stuff — you just wrote an awesome novel, Sons of Zeus, set in ancient Greece.

Noble: Thanks for that plug, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks. Well, I think it was clever of you to link D&D and the Palace of Knossos in Crete. And back to the whole timeline of our geek history thang. What I think is so funny is that when I first picked up The Fellowship of the Ring and they enter the Mines of Moria, I was like “Wow! This is so cool. It’s just like D&D!” It took me a while to figure out that Tolkien’s Moria adventure was really the progenitor of D&D.


Ethan: I think Gygax was a Tolkien fan, but my understanding is he downplayed the connection.

Noble: By the way, Gygax Magazine is now following us on Twitter. I hereby give a great shout-out to that most illustrious of publications.

Ethan: Huzzah! I actually wrote a piece for their inaugural issue. In the DMs Guide “Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading” Gygax lists Tolkien as a source of inspiration. recall that early editions of D&D used “hobbit” and “ent.” These later got changed to “halfling” and “treant.”


Noble: And Elves. And Dwarves. And Wraiths. And Orcs…don’t forget the Orcs.

Ethan: Right. I don’t think anyone can copyright elves or dwarves, but certainly Tolkien’s idea of them was not like our Keebler elves or garden gnomes. Wasn’t orc a  key invention of Tolkien? I think in the hobbit the difference between an orc and a goblin is pretty vague. But going forward, it’s all orcs in LOTR. In the Monster Manual, the two are definitely separate species. Maybe even Genuses? (“Knights Play Chess On Flat Glass Stools” just came back to me! Anyone remember that? Helloooo? Science class?)

Noble: I think that Gygax could get away with using “Orcs” because it’s an ancient word, Latin “Orcus,” deity of the underworld, etc. And nice mnemonic for remembering genuses! But Gygax based his game (or partly based it) on a very worthy source. So back to Tolkien…

Ethan: I think it really came down to that scene in Moria. Did Tolkien realize he was basically inventing the dungeon crawl? Dude, thanks for that. At least the idea of a multi-racial party of different classes entering the dark places of the world to find mysterious stuff and kill shit. I guess in Conan, Edgar Rice Burroughsdid this kind of thing? I never read much of that. But it seems to me that Moria adventures is the real D&D-Tolkien connect.

Noble: Yes. The multi-racial Middle-earth dungeon crawl! I always had to put a room in one of my dungeons (after reading LOTR) that included a Balin’s Tomb-like place with an old book that people in the party had to read!


Ethan: What was written in that book in your dungeon?

Noble: Some back story for the players and a foreboding warning of coming events. A complete rip-off of Tolkien’s scene. The player reads the words, “Drums, drums in the deep.” And then I would say, “And now you hear the drums too! And then blood curdling screams. So what do you do?”

Ethan: I wanted to ask you about your D&D stuff. How much did you save? How much got lost? To me that narrative about “When my D&D stuff disappeared” is an important one for many an older gamer. PTSD&D.

Noble: So much of my D&D stuff just seemed to vanish into the ether. I still have boxes to go through, however, and I’m hoping that I find that hoard of old drawings, maps and stories. Finding those things would be worth more to me than finding a heap of gps guarded by a pendulum/ w blade.

Ethan: Nice! I wish you luck on your quest. For me, uncovering as much as I have has been an important link to understanding who I was as a kid, going through a fairly turbulent time in my life. And I keep finding stuff—just uncovered a letter I wrote to my dad and step mom, turning them into D&D characters along with their dog. Yes, and I typed it up. I found the letter on a recent trip to my father and step-mother’s dungeon, accompanied by my girlfriend.

Noble: Wow! You have a girlfriend? Good job, dude!

Ethan: Yes, she loves me despite my +3 Cloak of Commitment Phobia. She’s an elf maiden.

Noble: That Cloak of Commitment Phobia had be dispelled…with love.

Ethan: Awww. Verily, the wizard’s evil spell has been, uh, dispelled. So perhaps let’s wrap this up. I’ve enjoyed our dork-off and waxing nostalgic about these old dungeons. I have more to come, if you dare. One adventure I wrote is called “The Idol (COLON): The Tower at Thunderhead.” The tower is, essentially, a big, 230 foot high horned penis. It looks like a Iron Maiden album cover. I’ll have to show you sometime.

Noble: Umm … (stalling, trying to think of what to say) that would be … awesome?

Ethan: Last word: May you always find light (and babes) in dark places. Know your marching order. And DMs, please don’t be a party killer.

To submit your own D&D relic (maps, figurines, Dorito dust covered dice, etc.) send a photo and a brief description to share(at) We might just use it in a future Dork-off.

Follow the Dorkwads on Twitter. Ethan @ethanfreak and Noble @shirewisdom.

Smaug the Not-So-Magnificent


Welcome to the first Dungeons & Dorkwads blog post.

The above image was submitted by Mike Afford of www.MyTolkienBooks. Here’s what he wrote to us: ”Here’s my old Smaug (Minifigs ‘Mythical Earth’ ME-58 Dragon) — lovingly painted to look as much like the dragon in Tolkien’s illustration ‘Conversation with Smaug’. He was purchased along with most of my hoard of Minifigs from a little shop in Kingston, UK which I’m pretty sure was one of the very early Games Workshops, around 1977 I think.”

Noble and Ethan don their protective gauntlets and examine the miniature figurine, surely laced with deadly lead, mercury other heavy metals: ledzepium, ironmaideny,  and zinc ozide. They shake their magic dice bags and sprinkle their magic Doritos dust. Then, and only then, can the dork-off begin.

Noble Smith: Hey Ethan, it’s great to be doing our first Dungeons and Dorkwads . . . errr . . . what should we call this thing we’re doing?

Ethan Gilsdorf: I was going to say “chat” but that sounds  so 2002. Dorkchat? Dork-off?

Noble: Yeah, dork-off! I like the sound of that. So we got sent this awesome picture of a Dungeons &  Dragons minifigure from Mike of Good old Smaug.

Ethan: It’s pretty beautiful. And sadly, old Smaug is broken. This dragon is out of order. This whole court is out of order! (Al Pacino as Bilbo Baggins)

Noble: “You can’t handle the Smaug!” (Jack Nicholson as Denethor). I love this Smaug that Mike sent us. There’s something so poignant about its broken wing. And you can see that Mike did an amazing job on this back in the day. Smaug’s chest looks all jewel encrusted, just like in Tolkien’s description.

Ethan: Yes, and the fuchsia color choice was a bold one. Not sure that Tolkien said that Smaug was hot pink. But there you have it.

Noble: Smaugy Tuscadero. (And that’s my first Happy Days reference of the night, and probably won’t be the last.)

Smaug and Pinky

Ethan: Aaaaa! Sit on it, Potsie. Ouch, that dragon is sharp.

Noble: Do you remember when the Fonz made Potsie do “lip ups” on the pinball machine at Arnold’s so that he could become a better kisser?

Ethan: OK, that’s scary you remember that. I think that was Episode 762: “Pinball Kisser,” right before the Fonz jumped the shark tank with his +7 Motorcycle.

Noble: That shark had 150 Psionic Ability, you know? Anyway, Mike wanted his Smaug figurine to look just like Tolkien’s watercolor titled “Conversations with Smaug.”

Convos with Smaug

Noble: He bought this dragon in 1977! That predates any of my figure-buying by about 3 years.

Ethan: That predates my buying, too. I think my brief minifig buying binges began around 1980. (Don’t worry, I won’t be alliterating this much all the time.) My own lamely-painted miniatures will have to be the subject of another post. How does it feel to be painting these relics again?

Noble: It’s so much fun to be painting them now with my son. I buy old figurines off of eBay. It’s become an obsession, trolling for figurines. That sounded really icky, by the way.

Ethan: Is it like washing the Shroud of Turin? Or if part Sistine Chapel was unfinished, and Michelangelo left paint-by-numbers directions to finish it, Doesn’t it just feel wrong?

Noble: I have no respect for those pathetic pedestrian twerps who painted Ral Partha’s pell-mell! (Alliteration smack-down!) I will paint over any crappily painted figurine. But you can get so many of the old figurines and sets off of eBay unpainted. I just bought this classic Grenadier dragon set. It was their Smaug-ripoff. I’ll show everyone when my son and I are done painting it. Beautiful set.

 Dragon set

Noble: So now back to Mike. He is an award winning TV graphic designer in the UK. With a family. So painting minifigures didn’t doom him to lifetime of dorkwad solitude. And he has one of the most enviable Tolkien book collections that I’ve ever seen. Check out his website, people, at The irony is that his wife hates Middle-earth.

Ethan: That’s just wrong. (Sorry, wifey, but you are wicked, tricksy, false!) And Mike said this Smaug figurine came from Games Workshop in the UK. I found a fan website that says this dragon was from a line called “Minifigs Mythical Earth Miniatures.” They seemed to not have the rights to say “Middle-earth.” This particular mini-fig is called “ME58 Dragon,” not “Smaug.” So maybe they didn’t have the Tolkien Estate’s official permission? And it came in three parts. See this picture? Poor old Smaug’s wings come off, and so does his tail. Not so tough NOW, are you, Mr. ME58 Dragon!

Unpainted Smaug

Noble: Nice pic of the unpainted figurine! The Internet is good for something! And I don’t think Mythical Earth Minifigs did have the rights. I think it’s hilarious how the minifigure manufacturer Grenadier got around the Tolkien Estate permission thang by calling their Hobbit collection “Box of Halflings.” By the way, what was the name of the hobby shop where you bought all of your D&D goodies?

Ethan: Oh shit, I can’t seem to recall the name of the place where we got a lot of my D&D stuff. There was a shop in the Newington Mall, in New Hampshire, which about 20 miles away, and required bumming a ride from a parental unit, or a pegasus, to get to. There was also the local campus textbook and stationery store for the University of New Hampshire, called Town and Campus, that carried some gaming stuff. But they didn’t have much gaming stuff, because they had to save room for all the Go Wildcats! beer cozies. But you know, me and my buddies ordered a lot via mail order, from TSR itself. The mothership.

Noble: I bought everything from a place called Unicorn Castle in Yakima, Washington. It was really a haven for me. I loved going into that store and seeing all of the figurines on the glass shelves, and picking out a couple that I would paint that week. They would order stuff for me directly from TSR or Grenadier Ral Partha or whoever.

Ethan: That is a very cool name for a hobby shop. Your childhood was better than mine. I want to go there, to Unicorn Castle. Do they have girls there, too?

Noble: Sadly I don’t think they’re in business anymore. I kind of liked the daughter of the people who owned the place. She played the cello. Or the French horn. Anyway, she had CULTURE, you know? And she worked at a hobby shop! That was sexy to a dorkwad like me.

Ethan: Because we were in such a Podunk town, mail order was our real lifeline. Looking at Dragon Magazine, I’d see stuff I wanted, and actually send a check in the mail. This is before the Internet, kids! Me, I was fascinated by this mythical land called “Lake Geneva, WI.”And Gygax. What was the deal with him? He was definitely a wizard.

Noble: Ha! Lake Geneva! Home of Gary Gygax himself. And you actually went there and wrote about that trip in your book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks.

Ethan: Indeed. There and back again. So back to Smaug. When did you first read The Hobbit?

Noble: I first read it after I read The Lord of the Rings (which I read when I was eleven or twelve). How about you?

Ethan: I was a late bloomer. OK, I was a lazy reader. Maybe sophomore year? I think I read LOTR first, gave up, went to The Hobbit, and then got the courage to try LOTR again. Later, I persuaded my English Lit teacher, Mrs. Whaley, to let me write my term paper about Tolkien. B-plus!

 The Fonz

(From the collection of E. Gilsdorf, Esq.)

Noble: I was not allowed to write a report about LOTR. It was considered to be “fantasy” and not “literature.” I tried to explain that it was “Fantature.” No dice. What was your favorite part The Hobbit?

Ethan: Favorite part: I think the riddle game. I was inspired to come up with my own riddles. You should see this very bad poetry project I did in high school.

Noble: And that was my favorite scene in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Trilogy. I thought they nailed it.

Ethan: I also wrote an epic (3 page was epic back then) poem about the exploits of my D&D character, Lord Elloron. In rhyming couplets. Perhaps we can exhume that and make fun of it sometime.

Noble: Definitely. Great faux-Elven name, by the way. I’m hoping to find my gigantic Christopher Tolkien-esque map that I drew with derivative names like “Darkwood Forest” and “The Solitude Mountains” inscribed on it. Anybody out there have a great homemade map of your fantasy world? Send it to us at share(at)

Ethan: Oh I have tons of maps. Tons. I think I drew about 20 times as many maps than ever got used for anything. For you, being the author of The Wisdom of the Shire, which connects real life to Tolkien’s works, and finds life lessons for us in Middle-earth, what is the lesson of that riddle game, would you say?

Noble: Don’t play games with psychopaths.

Ethan: That’s a good lesson. When you win, you lose. You get killed. Let the Wookiee win!

Noble: Exactly! Seriously, however, I think it’s brilliant writing. And Corey Olsen does a great analysis of it in his book Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I think it’s touching how Gollum’s last link with his Hobbitness are these riddles. Sucking eggses with his grandmother by the river. It’s what still makes him a little bit human . . . errr . . . Hobbitish.

Ethan: I agree. You get a real glimpse into his past. That scene also is like a series of riddles into his past, too, you know?

Noble: Yes! You learn more about Gollum from that scene than any other.

Ethan: Now that I think of it, I think it was Ralph Bakshi’s film of The Lord of the Rings, and the Rankin-Bass cartoon version of The Hobbit, that inspired me to read the books.

Noble: I love that Rankin and Bass version. My mom gave me the film book this last Christmas. I had lost my copy that I had when I was a kid. Or somebody stole it. Thief! We hates it forever!

Ethan: I did not know there was a film book. Like a picture book?

Noble: Yes. Scenes from the animated film and the text of The Hobbit. Here’s a picture of it.

Bakshi Smaug

Noble: It has this great celluloid cover with Smaug on it, like a painted cell from a 2D animation. So we’d like to thank Mike Afford for submitting that cool Smaug figurine photo from his wonderful collection.

Ethan: Yes, thank you Mike for letting us use your awesome dragon minifigurine to inspire our trip down memory lane through the Shire and to the Lonely Mountain, with stops along the way in Lake Geneva and my and Noble’s hometowns. We promise to be more brutal when we dissect our own dungeon maps and monster drawings.

Noble: Wait until you see my dragon diorama picture from 1980 with cotton balls used as smoke. Classic. Well, I think this was a great start to our first dork-off. Does that sound too much like whacking off?

Ethan: It’s a little like spanking the dragon, yes. But then again, we are reminiscing about our teenage years.

Noble: Hide your tube socks, everyone. Noble and Ethan are comin’ to town!

Ethan: Uh, Mom, no it’s OK, I can do this load of laundry. Mommmm!

Noble: Oh, dude. That was so funny.

Ethan: But dude, let’s keep this conversation under wraps. It’s not like we’re going to post it on the Internet, right?

Noble: Of course not. It’s going to be posted on a blog. Who reads those things?

Ethan: Like the  palantír, we don’t know WHO COULD BE WATCHING. One more thing: I have to say, that Mike’s Smaug looks like it was sculpted by a 7 year old. I’m just saying.

Noble: But painted with love by Mike.

Ethan: Yes, very artfully painted by our friend Mike. Our NEW friend, Mike.

Noble: Mike . . . whose collection of books I covet like the Precious! And if you want to submit a photo to Dungeons and Dorkwads here’s our email: share(at) Include a short paragraph description just like Mike did for his.