Do you ever want to know more about the people bringing us the best Tolkien content on the web?
What drives them? How did they come to know so much? How can we support their work?
Well you are in for a treat! Yoystan is the creator behind the popular Youtube channel "Men of the West"!
Though he chooses to stay anonymous online, you'll really come to love his energetic personality and passion for Tolkien.
Be sure to visit his channel here!
We hope you enjoy this interview and let us know what you think!
What did you learn, and how did hearing from Yoystan inspire you?
Leah: “All right. We have Men of the West here today, and I'm really excited to be talking to you. I am a fan of your channel and you have some incredible content, and I think you've had quite a bit of growth recently. Can you just introduce yourself to people who aren't familiar with your channel and what you do? What is your channel all about? Do you have a niche or a special focus and how long have you been doing that for?”
Yoystan: “Yeah! Thank you so much for having me, Leah. I really loved the candles and I've got them all right next to me in fact. Dropping Eaves and Cave Troll actually were some of my favorites so far, but yeah. Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure to meet you as well. So I'm a Yoystan from Men of the West on YouTube. I make content, lore videos, about all sorts of things within Middle Earth, within Tolkien’s legendarium. Different videos on settings, questions that need kind of some explanation, characters, stories, all of these sorts of things. And I've been doing these videos about once a week for the last five and a half years or so.
So it's been quite an amazing adventure so far, and it's been so cool to meet so many different people, other YouTubers, friends in the community, viewers, you know, it's been just so amazing and to have interviews like this. So yeah, I make videos from The Silmarillion, from The Unfinished Tales, all the way to Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, more well-known stuff, trying to intermix it and tie it together with the lesser known stuff to just kind of illustrate how amazing Middle Earth really is. So, yeah. Thank you so much for having me, Leah. It's great to talk to you.”
Leah: “Oh, it's my pleasure. So can I just ask, it's kind of the first question I like to ask. What got you interested in Tolkien? What was the path that led you to say, I want to make a YouTube channel out of this?”
Yoystan: “Yeah, so, no, that's a great question. My dad introduced my brother and I – as I know it is for so many people – my dad introduced my brother and I to the Lord of the Rings movies when were kids. So I'm actually on the younger side of a lot of these creators and on YouTube. And so as I was growing up, the movies were coming out or like I was pretty young when they did come out and yeah, just the movies started to get me into everything. And I realized that the books though a bit different in tone and more expansive, obviously, than the movies, I realized that there was still so much more of what I loved within the books themselves, within the source material.
So as I got older and played more of the Middle Earth video games and watched the movies, you know, so many times, I got more into the books and everything like that. And then as a teenager, I watched many sorts of lore videos on other topics, right? Game of Thrones, Star Wars, things like that. And I realized there wasn't much Tolkien content on YouTube at the time. This was… when I started my channel was 2014, but when I got really serious about it was 2017, and there still weren't that many Tolkien creators or videos on the platform. So I always just wanted to talk to more people about it, expand my own knowledge. And I always thought about what if I made different theory videos on like, what if Boromir had survived? What would that look like?
And to kind of put it into a project format and these sorts of ideas drove me to really get into my channel in 2017. And as I've continued to go, it seems like Tolkien has hit kind of a Renaissance recently with the Amazon show coming out, all of these video games coming out and so forth the animation for The War of the Rohirrim. And on top of that, all these other creators popped up too. And we formed this really amazing Tolkien YouTube community, both with each other as creators, but also with our fans and everything on Discord, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube and so forth. And it's been just so incredible. So yeah, really what got me into it was just wanting to explore my passion for Middle Earth with so many other people that shared that.”
Leah: “That's awesome. I love hearing that background. And now you said something that got me curious, when you said you and other YouTube creators kind of formed a little community alliance. How did – tell me more about that. How did that work? And do you guys have like a, are you guys in a chat together and do you – tell me more about that.”
Yoystan: “Yeah. So I'm glad you picked up on that too. I love talking to – so there are many other YouTubers out there that do content like mine from Nerd of the Rings to Clueless Fangirl, Tolkien Lore, all of these other amazing channels. And we all have a Discord server together. As everybody started to make channels and pop up and everything, the rest of us tried to send out more invites to this Discord server and try to follow each other on Twitter and things like that to really connect. So many times, unfortunately on YouTube, a lot of other communities as similar, but different sorts of channels have popped up, it's caused drama or some sort of toxicity within the fandom. We've seen this in Game of Thrones – the Game of Thrones fandom and the Star Wars fandom and things like that.
And as a Tolkien creator with some moderate amount of influence, I didn't really want that to occur with the Tolkien community, especially because really like this is the best community out there in terms of fandoms. We all really love each other’s ideas and talking and sharing that passion for Middle Earth. So as everybody started to crop up on YouTube, myself and some other channels that were kind of older, Geek Zone, Tolkien Lore, we reached out, tried to invite more people into the Discord server, give advice when people would ask it and ask advice similarly, and this really built a solid connection between so many of us.
I want to say that now there are like 30 or so Tolkien channels in this Discord server and twice a year for Hobbit Day, September 22nd, and March 25th, Tolkien Reading Day, we do collaborations. We all make videos for the same day to put in a playlist together. So it's really just brought us together and – thanks, yeah, it's just been such an incredible journey with everyone and we're hoping to get more Tolkien creators in that community as well. For sure.”
Leah: “And is the goal with that – I mean, do you guys have some criteria for – you get the invite or you don't get the invite? Like if they're bashing Rings of Power, is that like a red flag?”
Yoystan: “That's a great question. I would say the criteria is really just, if they're respectful in general, I would say. If, you know, there are channels that make a lot of content on drama and it's not for me to say that they shouldn't do that. It's just not our kind of material. And we are avoiding drama and a lot of disrespect in the community as much as possible, but really it's whoever, whatever Tolkien creators are out there that are consistently publishing things about Tolkien’s legendarium, that they really like. And yeah, so it's really a lot of diverse, diverse channels, some channels that might lean more into like, you know, volume six of the history of Middle Earth, saga of twelve, right. The very niche stuff, all the way to somebody making a video on the one ring itself.”
Leah: “Very cool. And on the note of community, who do you look up to in the Tolkien community and why?”
Yoystan: “It's so funny? It's strange because I was one of the – I'm like one of the older, like Tolkien creators, I guess you want to say in terms of when I started my channel. People look at Men of the West and as like one of the OG channels, I guess you could say one of the originals of 2017, even though there were a couple others that made Tolkien content, but me as Yoystan, I'm actually younger than a lot of these people, like as a person I'm younger. And so I really look up to all of them, especially Matt from Nerd of the Rings. He's one of my best friends in the whole space in the whole community. And he's really taken so much of what we've all been trying to do here. And he's really made it work on YouTube.
And I mean, he almost has double my subscriber base and everything like that. And that I'm just so incredibly happy for his success and really draw a lot of inspiration from how he's been doing things as well. So.”
Leah: “That's awesome. So for you, you're looking up to the people within your own community. And what about outside of YouTube? Is there any – more on the industry side or any inspiration from elsewhere?”
Yoystan: “Yeah. And that's a great question. So the group associated definitely with the Peter Jackson movies, Vigo Mortenson's portrayal of Aragorn has always been something that I've absolutely looked up to for my entire life. Last year, I was able to, I had the incredible honor to interview Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd on my channel. And that was a once in a lifetime sort of experience to talk to those guys and to ask them questions about the hobbits and about hero archetypes and things like that. Peter Jackson, Fran Philippa, all of the people that really made the Lord of the Rings trilogy happen. They have my undying, respect and love. Absolutely.
I also really looked up to Christopher Tolkien still do, but he passed away a couple of years ago, that one kinda hit me hard, because for him it was a lot like all of us where he was just carrying on his father's legacy and his own love, but it was also his father's love for Middle Earth, the person who created it. And yeah, so definitely a lot of inspiration there as well.”
Leah: “Awesome. Well, yeah, that's great. I’ve got a couple of other random questions for you. What do you think people struggle with the most when they're first introduced to the world of Tolkien for the first time?”
Yoystan: “Yeah. Lots of great questions. Lots of great questions, Leah. I would say the biggest thing that I could see people struggling with, at least in terms – I think the movies do a great job at alleviating this – but if you're jumping into the books, it's kind of hard to know where to start. Obviously you've got The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, but it's like, okay, I know there are like 18 other books associated with Middle Earth and the legendarium at large, but I don't know exactly where to start. I've heard that The Silmarillion is hard and so forth. So I think it can be almost overwhelming. You have a lot of that in different book, I guess, canons, these days, Wheel of Time and so forth, that just have tons of books. It's hard to really get into it sometimes.
It feels a little too big, but with Tolkien, especially with how he writes and that complicated sort of verbiage that he uses, it can be kind of hard. But I think if you take it from starting with The Hobbit, starting with the simplest story in terms of themes and simplest story in terms of writing and then go onto The Lord of the Rings and then you go back and read The Silmarillion, The Unfinished Tales, and then whatever else from the history of Middle Earth that suits your interests. I think that's a good way to approach it. But yeah, I would say to answer that it's really, it's hard to, it can be inaccessible at some times because it just seems so big.”
Leah: “Yeah. And even his language and the words he chooses. I mean, like the other day – I'm re-reading through Lord of the Rings right now, and I'm putting a little sticky note every time I come across something that could be a scent. It's full! Like, if you look at the top of my book, I have that late – that edition where it's like, there's like Elvish on the gold pages. I forget which edition it was something that came out last year. And the top of the book is just filled with little tabs all over through it. It looks funny, but.”
Yoystan: “That’s awesome. That’s a great way to do it.”
Leah: “I'm studying it from the perspective of scent design. So that's interesting. But the way he will say things like, even describe clouds or something, you're like, whoa, you know, it's kind of mind blowing, like.”
Yoystan: “Is that a real word, yeah!”
Leah: “Yeah, yeah. And just, it's so creative too, but it takes me a minute to like absorb what that even is for a second. I'm like, wow. So I can understand like people who, yeah, were used to – I feel like sometimes we're used to, I don't want to say dumbed down, but like watered down, like not as sophisticated as what he, how he writes. So it's a mental exercise to read it. Do you find the same thing for people?”
Yoystan: “Yeah, absolutely. It is. I took like years to read The Silmarillion, and I have no shame in admitting that, because that book is insanely difficult. Yeah. I mean, when you're not referencing like a dictionary to figure out, oh, what word does this mean? Or what is this? It's also how he approaches concepts. When he says Fingon, son of Fingolfin, the High King of the Ñoldor, it's like, okay, hold on. What? I got to go through the lineage here and figure that out. Because sometimes it really can be like that, especially in something like The Silmarillion. And so it's definitely the language, but it's in part also the concepts and his qualifiers and descriptions for characters. Absolutely.”
Leah: “Very, yeah. Yeah. You're right. Okay. Few other questions, what are you most proud of?”
Yoystan: “I've thought about this actually a lot recently, as we get closer to the Rings of Power show, one thing that I'm very proud of is how, like, how I've been able to help this community and bring some people together, bring some stories out there. I haven't done everything perfectly. And there are some things that I would definitely do differently at this point, but I'm very proud of the fact that I've been able to talk to so many different people, so many different backgrounds and diversity who all share the love for Tolkien’s works, and be able to facilitate some of that community and inspire others to do the same. That's probably the thing that I'm most proud of with the channel.
There are definitely some videos that I've made as well, where I'm like, I don't know how I did that. That was so complex. And I'm very proud of those kinds of videos. There was one years ago on the three houses of the elves – breaking down the differences between the Ñoldor, and the Teleri, and the Vanyar, and how they're different from the Moriquendi, the dark elves, and all of that. And there was – it was so complex, but I am so proud of that. Like, a couple of those types of videos as well. Yeah, absolutely. But I would definitely say first and foremost, the community.”
Leah: “Yeah. That's awesome. I feel like it should be something that brings people together, right. No matter what your walk of life is, that it's like, if we can agree, we love Tolkien, right. Like there's lots of discussion and perspectives within that, but it should bring people together kind of like music and things like that. Yeah. Yeah. What about, what are you currently excited for? Or about right now?”
Yoystan: “So yeah, a couple of different levels of that, for sure. One of the things, one of the projects, at least that I'm most excited about to be able to engage with my friends is the Return to Moria game that was announced. It's a survival game set in the early fourth age of Moria where everybody's playing a dwarf and you're trying to survive in that. I am so excited for that. Corey Olsen, the Tolkien professor, he is associated with that project, meaning the lore will be on point. Absolutely. I'm super excited about that, but obviously I'm also excited for War of the Rohirrim, the Rings of Power, despite all the controversy and everything. I'm excited to just see how they can put this together and if they can do it well, Howard Shore and Bear McCreary’s music associated with the Rings of Power. I'm a huge fan of the Middle Earth music, both from the movies and from independent creators, so.”
Leah: “Oh, there's so much to be excited about right now. I mean, can you imagine, like ten years ago were like, that's it, that's the end of like all The Lord of the Rings we're ever going to get, and now we have this explosion, so, it’s so exciting. I love it. And I actually, I love all the adaptations. I love the movies. That was actually more, my introduction was through the films. Cause I was younger too. So yeah. Anyways. And it's like, I think any introduction is an introduction, right. And that's your starting point. And it's like the, it's the beginning of the journey, so.”
Yoystan: “It is, it is. And we all remember it so fondly, that beginning when we first were introduced to it.”
Leah: “Yeah. So with Rings of Power coming out, that's going to be the first introduction for millions of people. Like millions of people who've never read the books. They actually don't even know who J R R Tolkien is or anything. So what would be your advice for those people who this is their absolute first taste of it? What's your advice for them watching the show? Because the thing is so much of it is going to be new characters and things that are not in the books. So what would you – what kind of advice would you give them?”
Yoystan: “I would say that with the show it's meant to be like any other sort of media, if you can find enjoyment out of it, enjoy it, no matter what anyone says, no matter what I say in my reviews, no matter what anyone says, try to find enjoyment out of it. If that is something that you do enjoy and obviously take it with a bit of a grain of salt when it comes to the actual Tolkienian lore, because Leah, as you said, it's, you know, there are going to be definitely differences, different characters, things like that. But that's how it always is with an adaptation. And yeah, so I would just say, find enjoyment from it and let that spur you towards exploring Middle Earth more and reading the books, seeing the differences and just experiencing the world. But I think definitely come at it with positivity, especially if you're new to everything and realize that, you know, Tolkien’s books have so much goodness to offer and you know, for some people might even be better than the show, but just come at it with a positive viewpoint. Absolutely.”
Leah: “Yeah. And I'm – my tendency is, these guys have a really tough job too, for what they're endeavoring to do.”
Yoystan: “Yeah, absolutely.”
Leah: “It can't be easy with like, you know, they're trying to condense timelines and all that stuff because trying to make, I mean, with any book being adapted for film or TV, they rarely stick exactly to it because there's some things that just don't translate well to the screen. So, you know, Jackson had to do it. It was like, so I want to, I mean, I, I'm not hardcore the way some people are, but like I just keep that in mind, like this is not an easy job they're doing the best that they could possibly do. And they do have a massive budget. So I hope that it does turn out good.”
Yoystan: “Yeah, absolutely. I know that there's the discussion of how many rights do they have? What rights don't they have? What can they show? What can't they, but you're absolutely right. It's like they wouldn't put all this time and effort into something just for it to be purposefully bad – they are trying to do something good and we'll just have to wait and see.”
Leah: “We just have to see, and I think that's fair, right? It's hard. You can't judge something you haven’t seen.”
Yoystan: “Exactly. Exactly.”
Leah: “So now we've talked about what you're proud of. We talked about what you are excited about, what are you scared or worried about?”
Yoystan: “Concerning Rings of Power, or…?”
Leah: “Anything at all?”
Yoystan: “Well, I am worried that the Rings of Power would further divide the fandom – that, you know, so much of life is polarizing. I studied political science in college. And so when I was doing that, it's like Middle Earth was my escape every weekend making videos. And that was a nice escape.”
Leah: “Can I just stay in escape, please? Right.”
Yoystan: “Yeah, exactly. And that's really what I'm worried about is the polarization, the politicization of something that's so beloved by so many. And I, again, I get that some people that is what they like to do is to really criticize and really lay into the negativity with certain things. And I just hope not too many YouTube channels sprout up just to do that or to divide the fandom and to press that for monetization, for a financial gain. And I just really hope that everybody retains the themes and the hearts of Tolkien's works – of what it means to have so many characters from such different backgrounds to come together, to work together for a better world.”
Leah: “Amen. That is awesome. Yeah. I think that's a really good thought. So if you could snap your fingers right now and everything would be exactly the way you want, what would you want to be doing?”
Yoystan: “I think, like, I don't think I'm as experienced of a Tolkien scholar quite honestly, to say that I exactly know how a show should go or how The Lord of the Rings YouTube community or any of that should go. But I think if I could put in my two cents about that, it would just be for the underlying themes of Tolkien's works, the kindness and everything to reign supreme in everything regarding Tolkien's works. That's really all that I would change. All I would say is for compassion that we see in Tolkien's works to also be very abundant and continue to be very abundant within the community regarding the shows, the games, any of the movies that are coming out, anything like that, just compassion. Yeah.”
Leah: “Very cool. And last question for you is what's missing, if anything, from a more immersive Tolkien experience for people.”
Yoystan: “Ooh. Wow. That's a good question. I do wish Tolkien had had, he was, he was a pretty big perfectionist, so I don't know if this would have helped much, but if he had had more time to like finish the books and the stories that he was working on. The Unfinished Tales are just that – the whole book is full of unfinished tales. And it's like, you get to some amazing spots, Tuor rides off to Gondolin, or Túrin gets ready for his adventure, or King Aldarion of Númenor is figuring out how to send aid to the elves in Middle Earth during the second age. And then the stories just end because he didn't really have enough time to finish them.
So I do wish Tolkien had had more time to really put The Silmarillion exactly how he wished it to be, because there are some inconsistencies, especially concerning lineage and things like that. I wish he'd had the time to fulfill his vision entirely. And I think that would have made all of the ages of Middle Earth, more accessible and more immersive for sure.”
Leah: “Yeah. It's almost like there's these open loops that never got closed. That's really hard.”
Yoystan: “It is. All we can do is like come up with headcanon explanations for what happened, but nothing that's really canon.”
Leah: “Yeah. Well, this has been really fascinating hearing about your background and what led you here and just the things you're excited about and nervous about and just your hopes for the community and everything. I think so far, everybody I'm talking to everybody's hearts are like in such an amazing place where they just want this to be a positive community, a positive place where the community comes together, where more love for Tolkien in the world is fostered and free of like negativity really. And it's just like, let's just carry on this legacy. That's like where everybody is at. And I love that.”
Yoystan: “Yeah, absolutely. I'm glad to hear that as well. That that's what you're hearing from the interviews.”
Leah: “Yeah. So I just want to say thank you so much for your time. I'm really excited to introduce you and your channel to our audience. I know it will be really valuable to them. Hopefully it will also be valuable to yours. And I look forward to getting to know you more as well.”
Yoystan: “Absolutely. Thank you so much, Leah. I can't wait to tell more and more people about your candles, your amazing work. Thank you so much for having me. This was an absolute pleasure.”
Leah: “Thank you!”