Book Review: There's a Hole in my Bucket: A Journey of Two Brothers


Royd Tolkien is the great grandson of JRR Tolkien (yes, that JRR Tolkien). He, his sister and younger brother grew up in Wales, the children of "hippie" parents who hosted gatherings of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit superfans at their farm each summer. When Peter Jackson began producing his movies of JRR's works, Royd was able to secure bit parts in a few of the films and became friendly with many of the actors. Based on this experience he went on to produce a few short films of his own. 

In short, and given his lineage, Royd Tolkien has had opportunities and experiences unlike those you and I have had.

Royd grew up cautious and risk averse where his younger brother, Mike, threw himself into adrenalin fueled activities like mountain biking and professional paintball matches. As brothers they were close and like many brothers competitive. But when it came right down to it, Mike was always willing to risk more to come out on top and best his big brother.

Later in life - in adulthood - with both brothers being fathers to their own sons, Mike was diagnosed with ALS (or Motor Neurone Disease (MND) as it's known in the UK). Royd stepped in and became a large part of his brother's care during the disease's progression until Mike succumbed to it in 2015. 

As the disease had progressed Mike plotted out a series of bucket list items. He knew he'd never be able to complete them himself, so he left the list for Royd to take up. Facing that challenge, Royd used his connections to turn his adventures fulfilling the bucket list into a documentary film, and this book, all in an effort to raise awareness of and funding to fight ALS (or MND). 

I have not been able to determine if the film has an official air date yet, only that it's slated to be out later this year. There is an IMdb listing for it. The book was released in August. It is an emotional, though unevenly told tale. It alternates in telling of Mike's MND progression and Royd's bucket list tasks. 

The tone of the book is informal and conversational. While Royd is credited as author, he acknowledges toward the end of the book that he is too close to all that has happened, making actually putting words to paper difficult for him. He all but admits at that point that Drew Cullingham, who has accompanied him through all the bucket list tasks, as cameraman filming him for the documentary, is the one who will end up writing the book. The book concludes with not one but two "About [...the author]" sections, one each for Royd and Drew. Yet Cullingham's name does not appear on the cover. Apparently getting the Tolkien name up front was an important marketing consideration, and to be honest it's why I picked up the book.

My take on the book is that it's...okay. It was an enjoyable enough read. Unfortunately, and perhaps necessarily given the reality of the project, it was a bit to self-involved for me to really get into it. I am guessing the documentary will be a much better experience.

Raising awareness of ALS is certainly a worthy thing to do and I salute Royd for that. Royd is currently campaigning for a national MND research institute in the UK. So, while I don't typically give out half stars I think There's a Hole in my Bucket rates Two and a Half Stars ⭐⭐🌠-  the half star in recognition of the good works of which this book is a part.

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