This is one 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 Geoffrey and the other participants for this.
To see the idea behind this project, check out this page
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!
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.
Now, on to Geoffrey B. Elliott’s responses:
How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
There’s not so much one watershed moment as a slow realization of and acclimation to the work. My local bookstore, Books to Share in Kerrville, more or less introduced me to the genre, and the shop’s owner, Gloria, made several suggestions that slowly spurred me to pick up Tolkien–beginning a series of re/readings that has continued for more than twenty years, now. (And which reminds me: I need to do the re-read again.)
What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
Hm. Really hard to say with that one. I suppose the easy answer would be to cite some passage in Lord of the Rings, but, in truth, I’ve gotten more use out of “On Fairy-Stories” than just about anything else he wrote. While incomplete in itself, the essay forms a useful starting point for criticism of fantasy literature, one I’ve deployed on several occasions.
What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Reading The Hobbit to my daughter. It was the first book I read to her (and I need to do so again), and having her infant self contentedly cooing and gurgling at me as I did…yeah. Good times.
Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
It could scarcely not. I went from being a passive consumer of the work to an avid devourer of it as I came up through high school. In college, Tolkien was a source of comfort, something of a cultural touchstone and a springboard for undergraduate research. In graduate school, it undergirded my early efforts and led to my MA project on Robin Hobb; as I have moved into and through my PhD and onward, it has fostered the Tales after Tolkien Society, which remains my primary engagement with the better parts of academe. Even now, Tolkien’s corpus continues to be a reference point for how I read fantasy as a genre.
Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Clearly, there are problems with the writing. That the Middle-earth corpus arises from Tolkien’s linguistic project is clear, and the man’s poetry is not the best. Too, there are time- and place-of-composition-specific concerns that end to make modern readers cringe. But Tolkien’s work in fantasy is pivotal to the genre, and his work on older Germanic languages remains useful, so he still needs reading–with eyes open, of course.
You can see regular blog posts from Geoffrey on Tolkien, as well as other writers and education topics, on his fantastic blog: https://elliottrwi.com/
Full disclosure, I also work on the leadership team of the Tales After Tolkien Society with Geoffrey!