This is the first in a series of posts where the content is provided by a guest who has graciously answered five questions about their experience as a Tolkien reader. I am very humbled that anyone volunteers to spend time in this busy world to answer questions for my blog, and so I give my sincerest thanks to Tom and the other participants for this.
To see the idea behind this project, check out this page
If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.
I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!
Now, on to Tom H’s responses:
How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
As a boy I was enchanted by anything to do with the ancient world or mythology. At about 10 I came across Conan the Barbarian, first in some mass market reprints, and then in Marvel Comics. In those days comic books had letters to the editor. People would write in and Stan Lee would respond. A famous example of this is the letter a teenage G.R.R. Martin wrote in about the Fantastic Four, which was published and I’ve seen it, I think, on his website.
The summer I was eleven (1971) I read a letter someone had sent in about a previous issue of Conan, saying that the battle scene in it was the best thing he had read since “The Siege of Gondor” in The Lord of the Rings. This sounded too good to resist, and I found the three books on a spinner rack at a local newspaper store. I bought Fellowship and burned through it. I did the same with The Two Towers, and literally ran out the door to get The Return of the King after reading “Frodo was alive, but taken by the enemy.” As soon as I finished, I read it again. For about ten or twelve years after this I read it 2-3 times a year.
I read The Hobbit, too, but only a couple of times. After The Lord of the Rings it just didn’t seem very substantial, though I liked many of the characters. (I have a much higher opinion of The Hobbit these days.) I had probably read The Lord of the Rings fifteen times by the time The Silmarillion appeared in 1977. Unlike many first time readers of The Silmarillion, I had no difficulty with it. I devoured it. There wasn’t anything like the amount of stuff on Tolkien in those days, but I read everything I could get my hands on. I still have these books 40 years later.
What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
A very tough choice, given that I’ve been reading it for over 40 years. Different parts have been my favorites at different ages. When I was a boy, the horns of the Rohirrim were my favorite, and they are still hard to beat. The courage and love of Merry and Eowyn fighting through their fear, to face the Witch-king. Strider singing of Beren and Luthien. Finrod and Sauron’s duel of song. Luthien’s demolition of Sauron. The leap of Beren. The description of Sam standing by the side of the sea on the Grey Havens far into the night. Tuor being granted the ability to see with ‘the swift sight of the Valar’ for a moment. The paragraph in Akallabeth describing the wave overwhelming everything, last of all the Queen.
What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Taking an hour and a half bus ride across town to buy The Silmarillion the day it came out, and starting to read it on the ride back. I don’t remember if I finished it that first night, but I don’t think I slept a bit. I am pretty sure I read all night long. All of this culminating in the moment when I finally got to learn more about Beren and Luthien. Until that moment, Strider’s song was pretty much all you could know.
Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
I am not entirely certain I know what you mean by “approach.” Nowadays I am more attuned to seeing how Tolkien does things than I was when I first read the text, and I do a lot of browsing in keeping with this. It’s also true that when I used to read it as a boy and as a teenager, I lived in the story, but now the story lives in me. The story, especially The Lord of the Rings, is like a friend I love spending time with. We know each other well.
Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Of course. At its simplest it’s a wonderful tale, but it’s also an amazingly rich world that helps to recover my soul from the “real” world, and thus it allows me to face the world better.
You can see regular blog posts about Tolkien from Tom on his fantastic blog: http://alasnotme.blogspot.com/